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 – John 1:35-42

2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B): Gospel – John 1:35-42

Andrew learns of Jesus from John the Baptist, meets Him, then brings his brother Simon to the Lord

Sunday’s Gospel illustrates the importance of personal relationships in the transmission of faith.

Benedict XVI explored this dimension in his catechesis on St Andrew:

Andrew had previously been a disciple of John the Baptist, and this shows us that he was a man who was searching, who shared in Israel’s hope, who wanted to know better the word of the Lord, the presence of the Lord.

After “Andrew enjoyed precious moments of intimacy with Jesus,” he shared his life-changing discovery with his brother Simon (Peter). Andrew, according to this Gospel, “was the first of the Apostles to be called to follow Jesus.” Thus the “liturgy of the Byzantine Church honors him with the nickname: ‘Protokletos,’ which means precisely, ‘the first called.’”

The Apostle Andrew, therefore, teaches us to follow Jesus with promptness, to speak enthusiastically about Him to those we meet, and especially, to cultivate a relationship of true familiarity with Him, acutely aware that in Him alone can we find the ultimate meaning of our life and death.

General Audience of June 14, 2006.

This reminds us that “faith is not an isolated act,” as the Catechism teaches:

You have not given yourself faith, as you have not given yourself life. The believer has received faith from others and should hand it on to others. Our love for Jesus and for our neighbor impels us to speak to others about our faith. Each believer is thus a link in the great chain of believers.

— paragraph 166.

Question for reflection: In what ways do I try to bring others to Jesus?

Engaging the Gospel – Baptism of the Lord

Baptism of the Lord (Year B): Gospel – Mark 1:7-11

Humility is the leitmotif of Sunday’s Gospel. St John the Baptist embraces his role as forerunner, humbly serving the One Who is to come. Jesus humbly lowers Himself — the Holy One, perfectly sinless, stoops to accompany the repentant sinners — to be baptized by John.

“Jesus’ gesture is a manifestation of His self-emptying,” as the Catechism (1224) notes, for He “voluntarily submitted Himself to the baptism of St. John, intended for sinners, in order to fulfill all righteousness.

The baptism of Jesus is on His part the acceptance and inauguration of His mission as God’s suffering Servant. He allows Himself to be numbered among sinners; He is already the Lamb of God, Who takes away the sin of the world. Already He is anticipating the ‘baptism’ of his bloody death…submitting himself entirely to His Father’s will: out of love He consents to this baptism of death for the remission of our sins.

— paragraph 536.

While the baptism of John was a sign of repentance, it is fundamentally different from the sacrament of Baptism instituted by Jesus, as John himself points out (Mark 1:8).

Jesus has sanctified the waters for our Baptism, whereby the treasures of sanctifying grace are lavished upon us. It is through this sacrament that we are cleansed of sin, made “a new creature” in Christ, and brought into the intimate life of the Holy Trinity (1264-65).

Through Baptism, the Christian is sacramentally assimilated to Jesus….The Christian must enter into this mystery of humble self-abasement and repentance, go down into the water with Jesus in order to rise with Him, be reborn of water and the Spirit so as to become the Father’s beloved son in the Son and walk in newness of life.

— paragraph 537.

Question for reflection: In what ways do I try to practice the virtue of humility?

Engaging the Gospel – Third Sunday of Advent

(Year B) Gospel – John 1:6-8, 19-28

When cross-examined by the priests, Levites, and Pharisees, St. John the Baptist stands firm, declaring that he prepares the way of the Lord. His clear realization of his own identity as Christ’s forerunner, rooted firmly in God’s plan, is instructive for us.

Contrary to what the world tells us, our worth is not dependent on the opinions of others; rather, our true identity is bound up in God, our Creator and our ultimate end. We are each created by God, “in a plan of sheer goodness,” in order to “share in His own blessed life” (Catechism paragraph 1).

“It is in Christ,” the Eternal Son of the Father, that we are “created in the image and likeness of the Creator.” Although we have defaced this image through sin, “it is in Christ, Redeemer and Savior,” that our “original beauty” is restored and “ennobled by the grace of God” (1701).

It is this wondrous gift of Christ that we will celebrate in a heightened way at Christmas.

“The Word became flesh for us in order to save us by reconciling us with God” (457), “so that thus we might know God’s love” (458), “to be our model of holiness” (459) and “to make us partakers of the divine nature” (460).

All human beings have “the dignity of a person, who is not just something, but someone.” We are each “called by grace to a covenant” with God, “to offer Him a response of faith and love that no other creature can give in [our] stead” (357).

Question for reflection: How do I define myself?

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 – John 1:29-34

2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time — Gospel: John 1:29-34

John the Baptist hails Jesus as the Lamb of God

Today’s Gospel gives us further insight into the Baptism of Jesus, and enriches our understanding of its role in salvation history.

By proclaiming Jesus as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” St. John the Baptist identifies him as the fulfillment of Scripture.

He “reveals that Jesus is at the same time the suffering Servant [prophesied by Isaiah] who silently allows himself to be led to the slaughter and who bears the sin of the multitudes, and also the Paschal Lamb, the symbol of Israel’s redemption at the first Passover” (Catechism paragraph 608).

Moreover, the Spirit’s coming upon Jesus is an explicit mark of the Messiah.

“In the Old Testament, the prophets announced that the Spirit of the Lord would rest on the hoped-for Messiah for his saving mission. The descent of the Holy Spirit on Jesus at his baptism by John was the sign that this was he who was to come, the Messiah, the Son of God” (1286).

For these reasons, Jesus’ Baptism is another “epiphany,” or manifestation of Him as the Messiah and Son of God.

Jesus continues to manifest Himself to us at every Mass, preeminently through the Eucharist, and we echo John’s words as we hail Him as the Lamb of God.

As St. Gregory of Nyssa (d. ca. 394/5) observed, the Eucharist completes the sacrifice of the Lamb, when Jesus gives “His own Body to His disciples for eating” (Sermon One on the Resurrection of Christ).

Question for reflection: How do I discern the presence of Christ?