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Advent Grace

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In this daily Advent companion, members of the Daughters of St. Paul share their reflections and lead readers in lectio divina on the Scripture readings for the season. Includes reflections for the Octave of Christmas.

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Liturgical Calendar

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Sunday of the First Week of Advent - A

ePub

Sunday of the First Week of Advent — A

Lectio

Matthew 24:37–44

Meditatio

“… your Lord …”

This startling reading from Matthew certainly gets our attention. It alerts us that this first day of Advent ushers us into an entirely new season. The liturgy warns: Pay attention! Stay awake! When they least expect it, chaotic events upset people’s lives, with dire consequences: “one will be taken, and one will be left.” But what can it mean? Jesus exhorts us again and again: Stay awake! Be prepared! You do not know the hour! The warnings may alarm us, but they are meant to prepare us for the coming of Christ.

References to Noah and the flood unsettle me. Had I been there, would I have believed Noah? If I had been among the women grinding at the mill, would I have been taken or left? Then Jesus speaks of a burglar, noting that the owner of a house would prevent a robbery if he knew when it would happen. What do all these references have to do with me? Chapter 24 is about the end of the world and the second coming of Jesus. Jesus is coming again! That is why we must stay awake.

 

Sunday of the First Week of Advent - B

ePub

Sunday of the First Week of Advent — B

Lectio

Mark 13:33–37

Meditatio

“Watch!”

Today Advent begins with the repeated cry: “Watch!” This word appears four times in today’s Gospel. Jesus doesn’t simply say, “Wait for me to come.” Rather, he wants us to actively anticipate his return, to prepare everything to celebrate his arrival!

Perhaps we find ourselves torn between two responses to this command of the Lord. Perhaps lately we have been indifferent toward spiritual realities, worn down by the endless activities and worries that fill our hearts and haunt our thoughts. Jesus’ “Watch!” gently nudges us from our tired sleep and rekindles our enthusiasm in our walk with the Lord. On the other hand, with fewer than thirty “shopping days ’til Christmas,” we may dread the endless check-out lines, traffic snarls, unpredictable weather, and preparations for Christmas parties and gifts. Jesus’ invitation to “Watch!” reassures us: he asks only for a childlike excitement about his love for us that gives our lives meaning.

 

Sunday of the First Week of Advent - C

ePub

Sunday of the First Week of Advent — C

Lectio

Luke 21:25–28, 34–36

Meditatio

“But when these signs begin to happen, stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand.”

A few radio stations began playing Christmas music weeks ago. The malls and department stores are decked out for the holiday gift season. Lights twinkle in the trees around town. And here we are starting Advent with one of the classic “hellfire and brimstone” texts. Christians! Sometimes we’re a contrary bunch.

Contrary indeed. In the midst of dire warnings about signs in the sun, moon, and stars, and an exhortation to avoid carousing and drunkenness, Jesus interjects a new, unexpected note: “… stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand.”

The end of the world as we know it is coming—but if Jesus is to be believed, it is not a doom and gloom event. He reminds us that we are looking forward to a time of redemption and salvation in its full expression. This gives us the confidence to stand and look to the future with joyful expectation.

 

Monday of the First Week of Advent

ePub

Monday of the First Week of Advent

Lectio

Matthew 8:5–11

Meditatio

“I will come …”

In the movie August Rush, the eleven-year-old orphan Evan Taylor hopes to be reunited with his birth parents, whom he has never known. His parents, Lyla and Louis, fall in love but are separated. Lyla has a child, but her father gives the child up for adoption without Lyla’s knowledge. With the vision possible only to the human heart, Evan clings to the hope he will one day be reunited with his parents. Evan can be for us an icon of Advent hope. He longs to know he is not alone, to know that he is loved.

During Advent, we also long for the coming of the awaited Messiah—in Bethlehem, at the end of time, and in each human heart, including our own. Like Evan, we also cry out: “Come!”

Similarly, the centurion in today’s Gospel pleads with Jesus to heal a sick servant. The centurion trusts Jesus so much that he believes Jesus’ word has power to bring relief and healing. Situations of pain or paralysis in our own lives can open us up to cry out for healing. This desire prompts us to reach out to those we trust: a spouse, a close friend or relative, a parent, mentor, spiritual guide, God. Sometimes a simple word or gesture from someone significant reassures us that we are not alone. How powerful are the words: “I’ll be right there,” or, “I am with you.”

 

Tuesday of the First Week of Advent

ePub

Tuesday of the First Week of Advent

Lectio

Luke 10:21–24

Meditatio

“At that very moment he rejoiced.…”

In the verses that precede this Scripture passage the seventy-two disciples have just returned from their mission. They are rejoicing for all they did in Jesus’ name. At this Jesus tells them they should rejoice because “their names are written in heaven.” Immediately following this we read, “At that very moment he rejoiced [in] the holy Spirit.…”

Jesus lives in such continuous intimacy with the Father and the Holy Spirit that he does not hesitate to praise God. This is not one of those moments when Jesus goes off to pray by himself. Instead, in the midst of Jesus’ realization of the Father’s work, the Holy Spirit stirs in him and he praises the Father aloud.

The author of the Gospel relates that Jesus praises God with the seventy-two gathered around him. The immediacy of his prayer tells us that Jesus is not ashamed to show his intimate relationship with God to those who are gathered there. How would we ever know the level of intimacy in the Trinity if Jesus had not allowed us to see this moment of prayer? In his own profoundly simple manner, Jesus allows us to glimpse what joy and happiness are. They are by-products of a life lived in communion with God.

 

Wednesday of the First Week of Advent

ePub

Wednesday of the First Week of Advent

Lectio

Matthew 15:29–37

Meditatio

“My heart is moved with pity for the crowd.”

Today’s Gospel visibly demonstrates Jesus’ compassion in word and action. After days of following the Master, the crowd longs for his presence, his words, and his saving deeds. Jesus also knows the people are hungry! “My heart is moved with pity.…”

As the Teacher climbs the mountain and sits before the crowd, the suffering of the sick and the needs of the people stirred his heart with pity. His saving touch heals the physically challenged and those who suffered many kinds of sickness. With seven loaves and a few fish, Jesus multiplies the food so the people will not “collapse on the way.”

The healing of the sick and the feeding of the four thousand show clearly how profoundly God embraces our human condition in Jesus Christ. The heart of God understands the physical suffering, pain, and weakness we experience! He is not only a God who is “for” us in our need, but who experienced hunger and physical pain in his own flesh.

 

Thursday of the First Week of Advent

ePub

Thursday of the First Week of Advent

Lectio

Matthew 7:21, 24–27

Meditatio

“Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.”

In today’s Gospel, Jesus gives us an important life lesson: nothing happens unless we act. It isn’t enough merely to listen to Jesus. Listening is important, but it’s only the first step. As Scripture says, God’s word is living and active. It prods us into action. It is easier to talk about something than it is to roll up our sleeves and get to work. As long as seeds stay in their packet, they’ll never grow. But plant them and water them, and soon a beautiful garden will grow. Our lives will bear fruit to the extent that we turn our words into deeds.

In baptism, we became members of Christ and were filled with the Holy Spirit. We have two choices about what we can do with that divine life given so abundantly. One choice is to let it lie dormant. If we choose that path, we’ll remain perpetual infants in the spiritual life. We’ll be like those seeds that just stay in the packet and never grow into anything. At the end of our life, we’ll say, “Lord, Lord.” But God will ask us what we did with the gift he gave us.

 

Friday of the First Week of Advent

ePub

Friday of the First Week of Advent

Lectio

Matthew 9:27–31

Meditatio

“[A]s Jesus passed on from there, two blind men followed.…”

To enter into the heart of this Gospel passage, you might remember a classic game: stand at the entrance of your living room, blindfolded, and then try to make your way to the other end of the room. Now try doing this with a partner. It probably won’t be easier. You’ll be laughing so much that you won’t be able to recall exactly where the coffee table is.

Today’s Gospel passage recounts a similar scene. Two blind men find out Jesus is passing by and they both begin to follow him, crying out together for healing. The two blind men take a huge risk. Imagine how foolish they must have looked as they made their way through the crowd, bumping into people as they went.

This is not a case of the “blind leading the blind.” Instead, the two men give each other light, guidance, and courage as they both seek to meet Jesus. They lead each other by the light of desire.

Let’s take a moment to shift our gaze from the blind men to Jesus. How does he react when he sees and hears these two men stumbling toward him? Perhaps their faith and determination surprised him. As Jesus sees them awkwardly making their way toward him, he must feel compassion and love for them.

 

Saturday of the First Week of Advent

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Saturday of the First Week of Advent

Lectio

Matthew 9:35—10:1, 5a, 6–8

Meditatio

“… his heart was moved with pity for them because they were troubled and abandoned.…”

Jesus comes and lives among us, as one of us. With his own eyes he sees human misery, all forms of pain and desolation. He dares to face the reality of human suffering. He conquers evil by doing good; he restores life and brings hope.

When Jesus looks at the crowds who follow him, he sees the people as God sees them—betrayed and abandoned, like sheep without a shepherd, as Jeremiah describes the Chosen People: “Lost sheep were my people, their shepherds misled them … losing their way to the fold” (Jer 50:6). In the Old Testament, God is called the “Shepherd of Israel” (Ps 80:1), who “feeds his flock” (Is 40:11). And God says: “I myself will look after and tend my sheep … rescue them … I myself will pasture my sheep.… The lost I will seek out, the strayed I will bring back, the injured I will bind up, the sick I will heal, shepherding them rightly” (Ez 34:11–16).

 

Sunday of the Second Week of Advent - A

ePub

Sunday of the Second Week of Advent — A

Lectio

Matthew 3:1–12

Meditatio

“God can raise up children to Abraham from these stones.”

These words of John the Baptist seem to spring from frustration rather than from anger. He is chiding these learned and observant men, the scribes and Pharisees, for their lack of comprehension. They are both the children and the leaders of Israel. Steeped in the law, these men know the prophecies, rely on the promises, hope for redemption. At this very moment the promised redemption is about to dawn. Although they are face to face with it, they do not recognize the gift of God’s visitation.

Advent is meant to be our John the Baptist. We let him remind us that we are people to whom God has given so many gifts. But do we find ourselves a bit complacent, relying on the fact that we are baptized, confirmed, married, consecrated, or anointed? Do we “presume” that all is well because we are Christian? The Lord wants us to be fully alive, to practice a vibrant faith, and to keep our hearts pure. The season of Advent invites us to examine our lives. It is our time to listen to John’s words and to act upon them, to ready ourselves for “the One who is coming,” the One who brings a “baptism of the Holy Spirit and fire.”

 

Sunday of the Second Week of Advent - B

ePub

Sunday of the Second Week of Advent — B

Lectio

Mark 1:1–8

Meditatio

“The beginning of the Gospel …”

Beginnings are generally small, even insignificant. Nightfall begins when the first faint star appears. A world-changing technology may begin in a flash of insight entirely hidden to all but the thinker. A life-changing love may have its origin in a subtle glance whose potential could never be fathomed by the two who exchange it. Advent celebrates just this kind of beginning, one bursting with possibilities.

The Gospel itself, “the power of God for salvation” (cf. Rom 1:16), begins with a solitary voice in the desert. Those who heard that call probably thought the eccentric John, with his camel hair and locusts, was the focal point of what was about to begin. But John is not staging an event as if he were launching a new product line or planning an inauguration. Instead, he claims to be no more than an advance messenger; the “one mightier” is drawing near. This is why John pares his existence down to the essentials. This is why John insists on a symbolic baptism of repentance and a confession that is both an admission of sin and a proclamation of hope and praise: John is preparing the way of the Lord. This is the Lord who had spoken through the prophets, anticipating the utter newness that was “impossible to human beings, but not for God” (cf. Mk 10:27): “I will give you a new heart and place a new spirit within you” (Ez 36:26).

 

Sunday of the Second Week of Advent - C

ePub

Sunday of the Second Week of Advent — C

Lectio

Luke 3:1–6

Meditatio

“[T]he word of God came to John … in the desert.”

It’s not surprising that God’s word came to John in the desert. Scripture tells us that Israel’s early history abounded with desert experiences.

Abraham receives God’s promise of descendants out in the open, beneath a sky strewn with stars. Sleeping in a barren landscape, with a stone for his pillow, Jacob experiences the Lord’s glory and reassuring presence as he set out on his journey to Haran. Moses first encounters God when a voice calls to him from a bush blazing on Mount Sinai. In that same desert God later molds the Israelites into a people.

Desert experiences are also part of the Church’s heritage. The seasons of Advent and Lent remind us of this.

I hope that during this Advent each of us will have an opportunity to create within ourselves our own “desert,” where we can meet the Lord and walk with him. In that desert we can share our concerns and his, ask for light and guidance, savor Jesus’ presence, and deepen our awareness that he is the “reason for the season.”

 

Monday of the Second Week of Advent

ePub

Monday of the Second Week of Advent

Lectio

Luke 5:17–26

Meditatio

“When he saw their faith, he said, ‘As for you, your sins are forgiven.’”

As I read this Gospel, I am struck by the simple love and determination of these unnamed men for their paralyzed friend. They are not idly interested in the possibility of witnessing a miracle. They are men with a purpose, whose love will take them to great lengths to see their friend well again. They are also men who have great faith in the power of God at work through Jesus.

In one translation, the word for “faith” in this Gospel is translated as “trust.” I like this way of thinking about faith. We hear the word “faith” so often, that at times it might bounce off our minds and hearts without hitting the mark. We assume we have faith—after all, we go to Mass on Sundays and say our prayers, right? But in a world where true relationships can be hard to find, the word “trust” can hit our ears and minds in a different way. We know the risks and rewards contained in that simple word.

 

Tuesday of the Second Week of Advent

ePub

Tuesday of the Second Week of Advent

Lectio

Matthew 18:12–14

Meditatio

“What is your opinion?”

What is my opinion? Would I risk the safety of ninety-nine sheep to go looking for one? Would I spend precious time and resources doing that?

In the context of Matthew 18, it is clear that this passage refers to the Christian community. Jesus makes a distinction between those who stray and those who cause harm to others or who give scandal (see Mt 18:5–10).

Those who stray are the misfits, the marginalized—perhaps the mentally ill, the prostitute, the drug addict or alcoholic, the immigrant—whoever for some reason is not able to be in complete communion with the community of believers. Jesus would seek these people out to try to bring them back.

He would spend precious time and resources trying to rehabilitate them. He would risk the safety of those who have not strayed. The question he asks, though, is: Would we? Would I? What is my opinion?

There are many reasons why a person may choose to no longer follow Jesus in the community of believers. The first reaction of others may sometimes be judgment and harsh criticism of the one straying. Some, particularly family members, suffer because of the separation. But the vulnerability that one experiences because of being isolated makes it possible for that person to accept divine love in a way that was not previously possible. If we look at it this way, we may be more inclined to be hopeful for the person, rather than judgmental or sad. It may be someone else right now; it may be me tomorrow.

 

Wednesday of the Second Week of Advent

ePub

Wednesday of the Second Week of Advent

Lectio

Matthew 11:28–30

Meditatio

“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.”

Who cannot relate to this passage? The feeling of being tired and burdened can last all year and is simply more intense these weeks before Christmas. Yet Advent is the one time we really long to slow down and appreciate the season. We know that we celebrate at Christmas the mystery that holds for us great joy: the birth of our Savior. Children are innately happy, filled with eager anticipation—even the secular world celebrates this season of joy. We long to savor the gift, to get away from the frenetic pace so often connected with this season.

My parents, ever my spiritual models, years ago made the simple decision that they would no longer go the expensive and exasperating mall-crawling, gift-giving route. They give a donation to charity, commit to daily Mass, and spend the rest of Advent a little more calm and less burdened as they visit family and friends.

 

Thursday of the Second Week of Advent

ePub

Thursday of the Second Week of Advent

Lectio

Matthew 11:11–15

Meditatio

“… yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”

Advent is my favorite part of the liturgical year. I love the candlelight of the Advent wreath amid the darkening winter days and the sparkling Christmas lights that glow on homes and along busy streets. They remind me of the Father’s promise of redemption. God is doing something new among us. The darkness of sin and sadness will soon give way to the Light of the World.

Amid all these signs of expectation—amid the Christmas trees and snowflakes and crèche scenes—the Baptist emerges as a startling figure. As I prepare for Christmas by baking cookies and sending cards to loved ones, John the Baptist appears eating locusts and wearing camel hair, preaching a stern message of repentance for sins. Today, Jesus holds him up for us as a truly great man. John had great courage and conviction. He followed the call of God to the desert, to the palaces of kings, and finally to his death. You would have to be “great” indeed to live the life of fearless integrity and fiery passion for God that John lived.

 

Friday of the Second Week of Advent

ePub

Friday of the Second Week of Advent

Lectio

Matthew 11:16–19

Meditatio

“The Son of Man came eating and drinking and they said …”

When my siblings and I were little we would sometimes get in a contrary mood that my mom called “try-an’-please-me.” No matter what my mother suggested or offered us—things to play with, snacks, or drinks—we were never satisfied.

Usually Jesus speaks of children as models of what Christians should be like (because of their simplicity and trust), but this passage evokes the idea of the contrariness of children. The crowd who were listening to Jesus had not been fully converted by the preaching of John—they said he must have been crazy or possessed to have adopted such an extreme lifestyle in the desert, “neither eating nor drinking.” But Jesus didn’t live that kind of hermit- or prophet-like existence. He lived among the people, and he ate and drank with them when they invited him to their homes. So they now accuse him of lack of moderation. “Look, he is a glutton and a drunkard …

 

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