December 2, 2016

Second Sunday of Advent / Msgr. Owen F. Campion

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionOnce again, the first section of the Book of Isaiah provides the first biblical reading.

This weekend’s reading is in the same mood as that of last week. Isaiah was very unhappy with the turn of events of his time. As was so often the case with the ancient Hebrew prophets, Isaiah saw the misfortunes facing his people as the result of their own disloyalty to God.

While direct and uncompromising, however, his words were not menacing or hostile. Rather, they were reassuring. They declared the prophet’s firm belief that, despite the sins of the people, God would not forsake them. Furthermore, in due time, God’s holy will would be vindicated. Wrongs would be righted. Errors would be corrected. Justice and peace would prevail.

St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans supplies the second reading this weekend.

In this reading, the Apostle Paul repeats the basic message given earlier by Isaiah. It is a testimony to God’s love. Throughout history, St. Paul maintains, God guided the Chosen People to righteousness and ultimately to union with the divine. Paul describes God as the source of all patience and encouragement. Despite human failings, God is constant in love and care.

The Apostle also counsels the Christian Romans to accept each other in love and good will. After all, he insists, Christ accepted them. Indeed, Christ was a visible and effective instrument on Earth of God’s mercy and goodness.

For its third reading, the Church this weekend offers us a reading from the Gospel of Matthew. The central figure is John the Baptist, mentioned in Luke as the child of Elizabeth and Zachary. Elizabeth of course was the “kinswoman,” probably a cousin of Mary. Therefore, John himself was related to Jesus.

From the earliest days of Christianity, John the Baptist has been a favorite figure. His absolute commitment to the most basic dedication to God has made him a model for the devout since the first century A.D.

By journeying to the place where he encountered Pharisees and Sadducees, religious experts but surely not his admirers, John showed that he was on a mission—to prepare the way for Jesus. Travel in ancient Palestine was understandably rare. It was undertaken with a purpose in mind.

John never sugar-coated the failings of people, or the stubbornness of some in his demands that the people reform. Here in this reading, he chastises his listeners, in effect, for their pride and self-interest. Their lack of true devotion to God only strengthens and protracts the reign of sin in the land. Thus, their personal shortcomings add to the burdens weighing heavily upon the entire society.

He challenges the people to purge themselves of this self-interest and humbly to turn to God.

Reflection

As we progress through Advent, the Church calls us to make ourselves worthy of receiving God. Advent’s purpose is not just to plan for a memorial of Christ’s birth. It is primarily to make our hearts fitting dwelling places for the Lord. To be fitting dwelling places, we must rid ourselves of our sins.

Advent calls us to this very resolve, to confront our own sins and to turn from sin. As an example, John himself was stark and direct, absolutely and completely committed to God.

To realize our personal sinfulness and the sinfulness of the world, we too must be resolute, making no excuses for ourselves. We must be frank with ourselves. Frankness comes only in humility.

Placing John the Baptist before us, the Church urges us personally to put first things first. Our goal must be union with God. Following self-interests and self-deception will lead away from God.

God will empower us in our quest for holiness. He will be our strength and guide. He loves us and forgives us. †

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