Daily Reflections by Father Bert
Lectionary: Isaiah 48: 17-19. Psalm 1: 1-2, 3-4, 6. Matthew 11: 16-19:
Seven days before Christmas we will listen or sing the O Antiphons, which are beautiful antiphons preceding the Magnificat or song of Mary at Evening Prayer of Vespers. They alert us that Jesus’ coming to Bethlehem and being born of Mary is soon to happen. The O Antiphon “O Wisdom” came to mind as I prayed and meditated on today’s texts. In Isaiah it was rather clear that Wisdom is a leading theme. Isaiah tells us it is God who teaches us wisdom. We learn from the priestly prophet Isaiah that the covenant and the keeping of its stipulations we have our union with God best expressed in living the lessons and commandments of the Torah. In fact, Torah also means “instruction” and those who follow the Torah are indeed women and men of wisdom. The All Holy One of Israel teaches us what is good for us and by following this advice we become wise people. Wisdom helps us see the bigger picture of God in our human history by its deep relationship to the history of salvation. Each generation is living within its own time in history and God is there for those who search for Wisdom.
Psalm 1 is a Wisdom Psalm that should be meditated upon quite often. It is very simple in its content but profound in how it can make us blessed, happy, and wise. Its simplicity is no reason for skipping it in our prayers for it helps us to get grounded in mulling over what God gives us through the Scriptures. We are encouraged to do this day and night—within reason, of course. It cuts to the heart of the matter by telling us to avoid evil in all of its forms and to do good. We are encouraged to delight in this wonderful psalm as a tree growing by fresh waters and producing good fruit throughout the year.
Jesus and John the Baptist are being rejected by religious leaders and some of the scribes. They do not see beneath the surface of why Jesus and John say and do what they say. John is considered a wild man in the desert using a ritual with water; Jesus hangs around with the wine drinkers, the tax collectors and sinners with whom he dines too frequently. The critics cannot enter into this type of living and are like children who do not cooperate with other children in a game that involves fun, music, and dancing. Those children who do not play with those who started the game are foolish and selfish.
Daniel J. Harrington has a good closing statement on this passage about John and Jesus: “It tells us that the rejection that John and Jesus experienced is due to no fault of theirs, but was the result of mean-spiritedness and spiritual blindness of their opponents.” ( Matthew, Sacra Pagina, p.162.) Amen.
Lectionary: Isaiah 41: 13-20. Psalm 145: 1.9.10-11. 12-13. Matthew 11: 11-15:
One of the important ways of reading Scripture is to reflect on the names given to God and to Jesus in the Scriptures. This helps us enter into the spirit of the original inspired writer who is sharing with us the names that help us see God as they do and thus enter into an intimacy with the prophets and Jesus in the text they have left us so many years ago.
Within the passage from Isaiah for today, I discovered four names or titles given to God: God, Lord, the All Holy One, and Creator implied in the promise of a Messiah within a land of peace and goodness in produce, rivers, mountains –a messianic promise similar to what we hear in the Gospel when John the Baptist appears in the desert. The Scriptures walk us through Advent to reach the crib where Jesus will be born.
God creates all things new as Creator and the All Holy One: “The hand of the Lord has done this; the Holy One of Israel has created it.” (Isaiah 40; 20).
Psalm 145 is one of the great psalms that come just before the Hallel Psalms (146-150). Here we can add the refrain that builds upon our recognizing the names and titles of the Lord. Here is God in relationship with us: “The Lord is kind and merciful; slow to anger, and rich in compassion.” (Psalm 145:8). In praying this psalm many insights into the names and titles of God are given. Every line of the psalm praises God for who God is. In this Psalm God is exalted by name fourteen times.
There is also a phenomenon which occurs in this acrostic psalm which has a letter of the alphabet tor each sense line—except that the N is missing. This letter is called Nun and resembles the form of a fish hook or a thin fish. We know this symbol was used by early Christians who took the Greek IXTHUS as an acronym for Jesus, Christos, God, Son, and Savior. Each letter of the word for “fish” in Greek represents in order the titles given to Jesus. Fortunately, through other versions we have the N verse in Septuagint Greek, the Latin Version, and in the Psalm fragment of Psalm 145 in the Dead Sea Scrolls. Here is the N verse translated into English: “Faithful is God in his words, and merciful in all his deeds.”
In the Gospel, Jesus praises his cousin John the Baptist as the greatest man born of woman, yet, in the paradox of the text, Jesus says “the least in the kingdom of God is greater than John the Baptist.” Recent exegetes say that John the Baptist is also among the ones who are in the kingdom of heaven. Let us just say, Jesus is greater than John for he is the one who leads us into the kingdom of God. John is lesser than Jesus, but in his role he is greater than all others except Jesus who is the one whom John is preparing for. Paradoxes leave us with many alternatives. Perhaps, through meditation you will find an answer that makes sense of the apparent differences between John and the little ones who enter the kingdom. Amen.
Lectionary: Isaiah 40: 25-31. Psalm 103: 1-2.3-4.8.10. Matthew 11: 28-30:
Our Advent Scriptures in the Liturgy of the Word are consoling and comforting. All three readings struck me and touched my heart more than my mind as I read them again. These words are meant for us in our Advent journey and they are speaking more heart language than heady brain-stuff. We gain patience and confidence through such readings and realize that God is closer to us than we can imagine or think about. As I said, our heart has to speak to us. When we do this Isaiah says “we soar with eagles’ wings, we run and are not wearied, we walk and we do not grow faint (this last part is more true for me). (See Isaiah 40 the comfort book of Isaiah, verse 31).
The Psalms are more emotional than other parts of the Bible but they touch the heart with their passionate expressions of how the prophets, psalmists and saints of old expressed their love to God. The Lord crowns us with kindness and compassion. I am always touched by God’s word when I hear or read this expression in the Psalms: “Merciful and gracious is the Lord, slow to anger and abounding in kindness.” This is the language of the covenant and the binding of God to the people of Israel and Israel to their God. Pope Francis frequently uses the word “tenderness” in his writings; I feel this is his way of speaking about the Incarnation. This helps us to feel the season of Advent so as to experience the love that God and the Virgin Mother of Jesus bestowed in love on us and on the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.
Matthew gives us Jesus saying sacred words that capture all that Advent means and all that our relationship with God is. They are expressions of compassion, tenderness, kindness and love. Jesus is meek and humble of heart. His words are words of assurance that help us understand how our burdens, pain, and frustrations are carried not only by us, but are put upon his shoulders. One edition of the Psalms uses the word “extravagant” when it expresses God’s love for us. It is a good way of opening up our love to others whom we normally leave aside or do not include on our Christmas card list!
Jesus does not hide his feelings when he expresses his love for us. He is open, sincere, and extravagant in his manner of loving. He shows us how to love not only by his words but also by his total self-giving without asking us to return that love. But what a mistake to turn away from such comforting love! We are led to see Jesus in our neighbor and even get a clearer look at him when we love those who do not love us. Advent is a time not for hiding our love, but for manifesting it. Amen.
Lectionary: Isaiah 40: 1-11. Psalm 96: 1-2, 3.10. 11-12. 13. (Isaiah 40: 9-10). Matthew 18 : 12-14:
We continue with Isaiah and John the Baptist in this second week of Advent, thus having both the fire and light of these two prophetic heralds of the Messiah. As we read from the second part of Isaiah, the Book of Comfort (Isaiah chapters 40-66). We recognize the passage from the prophet Isaiah because it is used in the chapter that introduce John the Baptist by the Evangelist Matthew. We also see in this passage at the end that Jesus is a shepherd in the parallels found in both Isaiah and the Gospel.
Jesus, as is his wont, offers us a parable to help us understand how he the brave shepherd will not spare his life in his search for a lost one of his beloved flock. No one of them is to be lost whom the Father has given him (we learn this from St. John the Evangelist). Isaiah tells us, “Like a shepherd he feeds his flock; in his arms he gathers the lambs, carrying them in his bosom and leading the ewes with care.” (Isaiah 40: 11).
In the passage of Matthew from chapter 18 we are alerted to the fact that it is here that word for church is used for the first time in a Gospel. The paragraph puts us into the community of faith or the church that Jesus has initiated in calling his disciples to a community of learners. We think of the one who may have left the church or community but Jesus will continue to search till the lost one is found.
As we have seen both the passages from the Old Testament always help us to understand what the message of God is for this day. The liturgy is really the sacred space where the words and Word of God become alive again and speak to us directly. We need to be patient, to be quiet, and to wait. “Good is the Lord to the one who waits for him…It is good to hope in silence for the saving help of the Lord.” (Lamentations 3: 26). Advent helps us to wait patiently and to be silent enough to hear the Lord in the depths of our hearts telling us what we need to hear for finding him in the crib on Christmas Day. Amen.
The Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary: Genesis 3: 9-15, 20. Psalm 98: 1, 2-3, 3-4. Ephesians 1:3-6, 11-12. Luke 1: 26-38:
For me the Immaculate Conception is a mystery to be pondered by the one who shows us how to ponder over the word of God, Mary herself (See Luke 2:19 and 51). The mystery of the Immaculate Conception has great significance in the foundation of the Marianist Sodality by Blessed William Joseph Chaminade and for the dedication of the Daughters of Mary founded by Blessed Adele. For the Sodality and the Daughters of Mary this is the foundational patronal feast and the mystery of Mary contains the virtues and graces to be sought and developed by all in the Marianist Family.
We read from Genesis about the need for a return to God on the part of our first parents Adam and Eve, the Mother of the Living. Hope is engendered in this first announcement of the Good News that the seed of the New Eve will crush the head of the serpent that tempted both of our ancestors. The story is told in an ancient manner for people to ponder over and make sense of as they looked to God and the mystery of how the reversal of chaos in the world to the goodness of all creation would come about; from disobedience to listening and doing the will of God. More recently the image of Mary as the one who unties the knots of the original act of saying no to God is helpful in seeing Mary’s role in the mystery of holiness and complete turning back to God. As we will read the Gospel of Luke we see another image of this New Eve who is always saying Yes to the Lord and thus will have a major role in the reversal of the failure of the original pair. Again, we need to return to our act of pondering over the “story” which is a real event in history of a woman totally turned to God from the first moment of her life and who has never returned to those who refused to say their yes to God when presented with their call and experiences in ther life situation.
I also in my pondering thought of one of the titles given to this promised woman as seen as the Ark of the Covenant. It leads me back to Revelation 11:19 where a description of the Ark is given while showing us where the ark of the covenant is located now. (So much for those searching for the lost Ark in the mountains or hills of Israel). Just after the heavens are opened and the Ark is seen, then the continuation of the vision of the seer tells us of the appearance of a woman in the heavens is described. This is a reflection also that we can apply to Mary for quite explicitly she is connected with an offspring who is part of the promised woman’s lfe: the Messiah who will rule the nations and once again conquer that which brought about darkness and evil into the world by the ancient serpent, the devil, Satan. ( Revelation 12: 1-1-6 as the first part of Mary’s mystery; the victory is seen in the concluding part Revelation 12: 7-12). The victory is brought about by the woman clothed with the sun who conquers and overcomes the Evil One through a great and more powerful Angel of Light called Michael who is the defender of the people of God.
The Gospel of Luke makes the story a historical event in the history of salvation where this woman is a maiden from Galilee named Mary. She is pondering over while suddenly a protective angel of light Gabriel comes to her and presents the story of the untying of knots and the failure of the original pair of humans. In her responses and questions this woman of youthful vibrant wisdom dialogs with Gabriel and soon the new dimension of her mystery is revealed and opens her trusting heart to vocalize her unbounded Yes to God’s plan for her. She is full of grace and given a new name; not Eve but Woman full of God’s grace from the beginning moment of her life in holiness. The name Gabriel gave her has the meaning of one who has already been graced and filled with God’s Spirit so that nothing would be impossible to block her resounding Yes. She replies at the end by saying, “May it be done to me according to your word.” The world has never been the same for this central event of the plan of God, brings about the Incarnation of the Word become messiah, Jesus, the Lord, the son of Mary.
My pondering had one more insight and grace in following what our brother Paul is saying in his letter to the Ephesians. His words convince me that we all are called to be holy even like Mary in holiness. Here are his words: “God chose us in Christ before the world began, to be holy and blameless in God’s sight, to be full of love; likewise he predestined us through Christ Jesus to be his adopted sons (and daughters) that all might praise the divine favor God has bestowed on us in his beloved. Amen.
Lectionary: For Second Sunday in Advent: Isaiah 11: 1-10. 7-8, 12-13, 17. Romans 15: 4-9, Matthew 3: 1-12:
Matthew introduces us to the second great person who leads us through this second week of Advent. He is John the Baptist who appears near the Jordan River and is baptizing in a ritual of acknowledging ones sins and being reconciled to the Lord. Matthew gives us one of the best descriptions of who he is in the opening twelve verses of his third chapter. Notice how he cites Isaiah, thus not forgetting the first great light leading us through Advent. He begins this way, “A herald’s voice in the desert: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.’”
Among his many listeners are some Gentiles including persons from the Roman army which is occupying Israel during his lifetime and afterwards for another one hundred years. All are called to reform their lives for someone is coming who is greater than John the Baptist who will baptize them not only with water but with the fire of the Holy Spirit. Matthew also has given us a good portrait of the Baptist that has captured the creativity of many artists who have painted him.( Reread Matthew 3: 4-6).
Isaiah 11: 1-10 visions the messiah and savior who issues from Jesse, the father of David who begins the messianic lineage to which Jesus belongs (See Matthew’s genealogy in Mattew 1: 1-25. Isaiah tells us that the messiah will bring in an era of peace for the people of Israel. The Messiah will also share the fullness of the Holy Spirit for he is given the seven gifts of the Spirit which Isaiah enumerates; Wisdom, Understanding, Knowledge, Counsel, Fortitude, Piety, and Fear or Awe of the Lord. These gifts will be shared by the messiah by his living among the people and ministering to them. (They will all be sons and daughters of God).
Our Psalm continues the praise of God with the following Psalm Response: “Justice shall flourish in his time and fullness of peace forever. “ This Psalm is among the messianic psalms and is fitting for prayer during the season of Advent.
Paul again tells us that we must be patient in waiting for the messiah and Lord of all times and peoples. His second coming will be in glory and with justice being offered to the Israelites and mercy to the other nations or the Gentiles.
Lectionary: Isaiah 30:19-21, 23-26. Psalm 147: 1-2, 3-4, 5-6. Matthew 9: 35-10: 1, 6-8:
Isaiah paints another scene about the blessings and peace of the messianic era that will come when Elijah, the prophet reappears. He describes how the land will be blessed with an abundant harvest and all of nature will be a gift and a blessing. We need such positive themes during Advent to help us through the waiting before the coming of the Lord both in history and in the time of judgement before entering with him into eternity. The promises of the Messiah will be fulfilled and it is through the prophets that these messianic messages are kept alive. They help us not lose hope in the present and the future.
Isaiah’s favorite address of God is as the All Holy One of Israel. We are seeing this title quite frequently in our first readings which all have been from Isaiah. Isaiah also introduces God as our teacher and our firm security. The All Holy One not only protects us but also whispers behind us which road to take, and what to do. He whispers in our ears, “This is the way, walk in it.”
Our Psalm Response also is from Isaiah and keeps us in continuity with the prophet’s messianic messages. The Response is, “Happy are all who long for the coming of the Lord.” (Isaiah 30:18). I pondered over the verse that reads: “God heals the broken hearted and binds up their wounds.” It reminded me of the book called the “Wounded Healer” by Henri Nouwen. The story there is that Jesus is a wounded healer who binds up others wounds before taking care of his own. This thought fits in with our message from Isaiah and the Psalm for it pertains to the time of Israel’s captivity where they experienced severe sufferings and sorrows. ( see Isaiah 61:1 and Psalm 137).
Matthew again summarizes the healings of Jesus in Galilee. Jesus is sorrowful because the people who come to him for help are like sheep without a shepherd. Jesus also delegates and gives authority to twelve of his followers (the apostles?) so that they may help him for the harvest is so great and laborers are needed. They go forth and do heal, teach, preach, and bring the good news to the neighboring villages. They know that the reign of God is at hand (another Advent theme). What they have received from the Lord as gift they are to give as gift.
We may wish to pray for vocations to the various states of life so that more people can witness and share the gifts they have received for the harvest is still too great for all of us to reap. We pray, therefore, that the Lord of the harvest send more to do the harvesting of others for Jesus’ mission. Amen.
Good is the Lord to the one who waits for him; to the soul that seeks him. It is good to hope in silence for the saving help of the Lord. (Lamentations 3:26)