Engaging the Gospel – Fourth Sunday of Advent

Fourth Sunday of Advent (Year C): Gospel – Luke 1:39-45

Because the Virgin Mary had just conceived Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, her “visitation to Elizabeth thus became a visit from God to His people” (Catechism paragraph 717).

“Mary is acclaimed by Elizabeth, at the prompting of the Spirit and even before the birth of her son, as ‘the mother of my Lord’” (495).

We join in Elizabeth’s greeting whenever we say the “Hail Mary,” which includes key phrases from this Gospel passage:

Filled with the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth is the first in the long succession of generations who have called Mary blessed….Mary is blessed among women because she believed in the fulfillment of the Lord’s word (2676).

Because she gives us Jesus, her son, Mary is Mother of God and our mother (2677).

Because of Mary’s singular cooperation with the action of the Holy Spirit, the Church loves to pray in communion with the Virgin Mary, to magnify with her the great things the Lord has done for her, and to entrust supplications and praises to her (2682).

In this way we honor God, Who Himself has assigned her this mission in salvation history:

Mary’s role in the Church is inseparable from her union with Christ and flows directly from it (964).

What the Catholic faith believes about Mary is based on what it believes about Christ, and what it teaches about Mary illumines in turn its faith in Christ (487).

Question for reflection: How have I welcomed Mary in my own life?

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Engaging the Gospel – Second Sunday of Advent

Second Sunday of Advent (Year C): Gospel – Luke 3:1-6

John the Baptist proclaims a baptism of repentance, and in so doing, prepares the way for the coming Messiah, Jesus.

“In John, the precursor, the Holy Spirit completes the work of making ready a people prepared for the Lord” (Catechism paragraph 718).

At the same time, with John, “the Holy Spirit begins the restoration to man of the divine likeness, prefiguring what He would achieve with and in Christ” (720):

The human heart is heavy and hardened. God must give man a new heart. Conversion is first of all a work of the grace of God Who makes our hearts return to Him….This same Spirit Who brings sin to light is also the Consoler Who gives the human heart grace for repentance and conversion (1432-33).

Benedict XVI elucidates today’s Gospel with the help of two sublime Church Fathers — Sts Ambrose and Augustine:

Tomorrow will be the liturgical Memorial of St Ambrose, the great Bishop of Milan. I take from him a comment on this Gospel text: “The Son of God,” he writes, “before gathering the Church together, acts first of all in His humble servant. Thus St Luke rightly says that the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness, because the Church was not born from people, but from the Word.”

Here then is the meaning: the Word of God is the subject that moves history, inspires the prophets, prepares the way for the Lord and convokes the Church. Jesus Himself is the divine Word Who was made flesh in Mary’s virginal womb: in Him God was fully revealed, He told us, and gave us His all, offering to us the precious gifts of His truth and mercy. St Ambrose then continues in his commentary: “Thus the Word came down so that the earth, which was previously a desert, might produce its fruit for us.”

Angelus of December 6, 2009.

St Augustine comments: “John is the voice, but the Lord is the Word Who was in the beginning (cf. Jn 1:1). John is the voice that lasts for a time; from the beginning Christ is the Word Who lives for ever. Take away the word, the meaning, and what is the voice? Where there is no understanding, there is only a meaningless sound. The voice without the word strikes the ear but does not build up the heart.”

Today it is up to us to listen to that voice so as to make room for Jesus, the Word Who saves us, and to welcome Him into our hearts.

Angelus of December 9, 2012.

Question for reflection: In what ways have I experienced a call to repentance?

Engaging the Gospel – First Sunday of Advent

First Sunday of Advent (Year C): Gospel – Luke 21:25-28, 34-36

As we begin Advent, today’s Gospel reminds us of a significant point about this liturgical season. We’re not only preparing to celebrate the birth of Our Lord at Christmas, but also preparing to meet Christ when He comes again.

Jesus emphasizes the upheavals that will take place in the last days, and warns us to “be vigilant at all times and pray” so that we may not be caught off guard.

The Catechism picks up the theme:

Before Christ’s second coming, the Church must pass through a final trial that will shake the faith of many believers. The persecution that accompanies her pilgrimage on earth will unveil the mystery of iniquity in the form of a religious deception offering men an apparent solution to their problems at the price of apostasy from the truth (paragraph 675).

God’s triumph over the revolt of evil will take the form of the Last Judgment after the final cosmic upheaval of this passing world (677).

Then through His Son Jesus Christ He will pronounce the final word on all history. We shall know the ultimate meaning of the whole work of creation and of the entire economy of salvation and understand the marvelous ways by which His Providence led everything towards its final end (1040).

Question for reflection: How does my faith help me through troubling times?

Engaging the Gospel – Fourth Sunday of Advent

Fourth Sunday of Advent: Gospel – Luke 1:26-38

The Annunciation marks the turning point in all of history: when the Eternal Son of God descends to take on our human nature, our flesh, becoming incarnate in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In recognition of this sublime mystery, we bow during these lines when we profess the Creed.

At this moment, God and Mary are entrusting themselves to each other, as St. John Paul II observed in Redemptoris Mater:

For it must be recognized that before anyone else it was God Himself, the Eternal Father, Who entrusted Himself to the Virgin of Nazareth, giving her His own Son in the mystery of the Incarnation (39).

And Mary surrenders herself totally to the Lord, freely consenting to become the mother of the Savior:

The mystery of the Incarnation was accomplished when Mary uttered her fiat: ‘Let it be to me according to your word,’ which made possible, as far as it depended upon her in the divine plan, the granting of Her Son’s desire.

Mary uttered this fiat in faith. In faith she entrusted herself to God without reserve…And as the Fathers of the Church teach – she conceived this Son in her mind before she conceived Him in her womb: precisely in faith! (13).

Thus in a sense Mary as Mother became the first ‘disciple’ of her Son (20).

While Mary’s faith is an example to us, she continues to exercise a much more active role on our behalf. Jesus gave Mary to us as our mother too:

Along the path of this collaboration with the work of her Son, the Redeemer, Mary’s motherhood itself underwent a singular transformation, becoming ever more imbued with ‘burning charity’ towards all those to whom Christ’s mission was directed.

…In response to this interior willingness of His Mother, Jesus Christ prepared her ever more completely to become for all people their ‘mother in the order of grace’ (39).

Thus, in her new motherhood in the Spirit, Mary embraces each and every one in the Church, and embraces each and every one through the Church (47).

Question for reflection: How does the Blessed Virgin Mary help me to be a better disciple?

Engaging the Gospel – Second Sunday of Advent

Second Sunday of Advent (Year B): Gospel – Mark 1:1-8

St. John the Baptist prepares the way of the Lord

“The coming of God’s Son to earth is an event of such immensity that God willed to prepare for it over centuries,” as the Catechism phrases it:

He makes everything converge on Christ: all the rituals and sacrifices, figures and symbols of the ‘First Covenant.’ He announces Him through the mouths of the prophets who succeeded one another in Israel.

–Catechism paragraph 522.

This prophetic tradition culminates in St. John the Baptist, the last and greatest of the prophets, who serves as “the Lord’s immediate precursor or forerunner, sent to prepare His way” (523).

We ourselves enter into “this ancient expectancy of the Messiah” during the season of Advent, which comes from the Latin term for “arrival.” We share “in the long preparation for the Savior’s first coming,” and at the same time, renew our “ardent desire for His second coming” (524).

John the Baptist prepared the people by calling them to conversion. Because “sin sets itself against God’s love for us and turns our hearts away from it,” sin is “an offense against God” (1850).

To prepare ourselves for the Lord, we too must turn our hearts back to Him in repentance. Christ has given us the sacrament of Reconciliation (1442-46) for our benefit; let us grasp at the graces He offers to us.

Question for reflection: How am I preparing the way of the Lord during this season of Advent?

Engaging the Gospel – First Sunday of Advent

First Sunday of Advent (Year B): Gospel – Mark 13:33-37

As we ring in the new Church year, the Gospel continues the theme of vigilantly anticipating the Lord’s coming.

During this season of Advent, we prepare in a special way for our celebration of Christ’s birth, while remembering that He comes to us on multiple levels.

“God is the ‘One who comes,’” as St. John Paul II reminds us:

He came among us in the person of Jesus Christ; He comes again in the Church’s sacraments and in every human being who asks our help; He will come in glory at the end of time. This is why Advent is marked by watchful and active expectation.

Angelus of November 28, 1999.

Therefore Jesus not only “calls His hearers to conversion and faith, but also to watchfulness” (Catechism paragraph 2612), and He “urges us to vigilance of the heart in communion with His own” (2849).

This encouragement to be vigilant serves as an important antidote to a variety of human weaknesses, for it is easy to become indifferent, lukewarm, or even ungrateful to God (2094).

Such spiritual laziness is called acedia, which includes “lax ascetical practice, decreasing vigilance, carelessness of the heart” (2733). In contrast, “vigilance is custody of the heart…The Holy Spirit constantly seeks to awaken us to keep watch” (2849).

Prayer is essential to this spirit of vigilance: “In prayer the disciple keeps watch, attentive to Him Who Is and Him Who Comes…only by keeping watch in prayer can one avoid falling into temptation” (2612).

Question for reflection: How do I respond to the Lord’s call to vigilance?