Sister Rea McDonnell, SSND, offers daily reflections on the Liturgical Readings for each day. If you wish to share your own reflections or have comments or questions, please feel free to email Sister Rea. For information about Sister Rea's publications, visit our online gift shop.
If John the Baptizer is not worthy to loose Jesus' sandal strap, how dare we presume to approach him? Because the Spirit of Jesus has made us worthy with a baptism not like John's ( a baptism of repentance), but a baptism which immerses us in Christ and in his Spirit. That is why we can "rejoice always": we are chosen to be in Christ. That is why we can "pray always": the Spirit prays continually within us. This is why we can "give thanks in all circumstances": "because the God of peace sanctifies us entirely." Because of our baptism into Christ and the Spirit we can use Mary's song of exultation (Magnificat) as our own. We must use Isaiah's mission plan for the Messiah as our own: we are sent (missioned) to "bring good news to the oppressed, bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and release for prisoners."
When Paul exhorts us to rejoice always and give thanks he is not asking us to deny our feelings; he certainly didn't! His good news is that because of all that we have been given in baptism nothing, no adversity or suffering, can separate us from God's loving us. A Mexican proverb says it well: The rain can soak my face and my clothes, but it can't touch the pearl in my pocket. Contemplate the "pearl in your pocket," the Spirit who rejoices in you, prays continually in you, and sanctifies you moment by moment.
Our hearts magnify you, O God. As Mary grows big with child, may our hearts grow big and make you bigger, magnifying you, your light, joy and peace to the world.
Today's feast is also called Mother of the Americas, joined not in trade agreements, but "all the nations" of this hemisphere "joined to the Lord." as the first reading announces. Unfortunately, this feast springs from the oppression of the native peoples of the Americas. We should celebrate Our Lady of Tepeyac, for Guadalupe was the Spanish name given the holy spot by the conquistadors. The vision Juan Diego had of Mary shows her dark, La Morenita, of the race of the native Americans. In choosing the peasant, Mary continues to proclaim the overturning of our values, and God's choosing the poor: "God brings the mighty from their thrones and lifts up the lowly. The hungry God fills with good things, and sxends the rich away empty."
Let us pray for the native peoples of the Americas, that they might know justice, that the United States might repent from all the ways we continue to conquer them economically, that Mary might join us all, rich and poor, in the Lord. One way to pray is to envision Mary's cape, or Jesus' wounded hands, enfolding each country of North, Central and South America, one by one, and to speak the powerful, saving name of Jesus over each.
Blessed are you among women, Mary, and blessed is your child, Jesus. Bless in turn all the children of the Americas, and let the haughty among us relax into your motherly embrace.
God promises that no matter how evil the peple become, a remnant of the chosen will remain faithful. They are "a people humble and lowly." The psalm promises that God hears the cry of the poor, is near to the brokenhearted, saves those crushed in spirit. Jesus tells a parable of two sons, one promising to go to work and skipping out, the other unwilling at first. He however, "changed his mind" and went to the vineyard. Change of mind in Greek is metanoia, the word we use for repentance. Tax collectors and prostitutes, Jesus explained, did change their minds and so will enter the kin-dom of God before the righteous. Willingness to change. How difficult for the arrogant, how much more simple for those who have nothing to lose, the people "humble and lowly."
And you? What in your mind and heart needs changing? Don't scrape your conscience, but ask the Spirit to teach you. Remind God that while you do not suffer the death-dealing disease and famine of Africans, that you too have a broken spirit, you too have known a crushed spirit. Ask for the gift of solidarity with the really poor.
Thank you, creator God, re-creating God, for continually calling us to continual conversion. Transform our minds and let us have, this season, this new year, the very mind of Christ.
In the gospel, in response to the inquiries of John the Baptizer's disciples, Jesus lists how he is fulfilling the hopes for messianic times: the blind see, the lame walk, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor are offered the good news of God's unconditional love. The very clouds are raining down the Just One, kindness and faithfulness meet in Jesus, justice and peace kiss. For many of us, those messianic signs have happened, are happening in our lives. Hah! respond some others of us, "I don't get such kindness and peace in my life!" Isaiah notes that many of God's people are angry or disappointed with God. So he writes: "All who were incensed against God will come again to God." The Jews expected to be angry with God periodically, and to feel tender toward God at other times.
And you? How are you feeling about messianic promises right now? And those whom you love? This is a season for healing, for family reunions, and a time for angry people to be reconciled with God and with the Body of Christ. Pray for peace in the hearts of all who have been hurt by God's weakness ("He emptied himself and became a slave). Pray for unity in our church, our churches, our neighborhoods and families.
Open our ears, minds and hearts, Holy Spirit, to hear the good news and to absorb it. God loves us without conditions. Let every one know God's peace and abundant love this season.
Notice that John the Baptizer is almost as major a figure in the Advent liturgies as Mary. And yet Jesus tells us that while there is no one greater born of woman (has he forgotten himself and his mother?), "yet the least in the kin-dom of God is greater than he." The ability to accept paradox is a sign of spiritual maturity, and Jesus loves to issue the challenge. John belongs to the old covenant and we who are kin with Jesus belong to a new covenant. One of the characteristics of this new chosen people is expressed by Isaiah: "Open wide the flaps of your tent." We Christians are called to be inclusive. Jesus invited everyone to eat with him. Tax collectors, Luke comments, are included, but the righteous have "rejected God's purpose for themselves."
And you? What is God's purpose for you? If you think you know it, ask again for the Spirit to show you again your mission and meaning in life. Remember "It's A Wonderful Life," with Jimmy Stewart? What would the life of others be without your particular self?
Thank you, God, for the particular life of Jesus, limited by time and space, by a mortal body, by all the necessities of being human. Help us to accept ourselves in accepting his humanity this Christmas.
How strange to have a reading from the Lenten line-up suddenly intrude into our Christmas peace! The Jewish leaders are persecuting Jesus who healed on the Sabbath. The point Jesus makes is that God is still working and Jesus himself is still working. And what is the work of God on which Jesus puts flesh? Isaiah says: "Thus says the Lord God, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, ‘I will gather others to them besides those already gathered.'" Israel is already gathered, and now all nations (Gentiles) shall be included as well.
And you? Whom do you need to gather, to include? With whom might you be "on the outs"? How will you continue the work of God, the work of Jesus, and gather, include, unite? Ask the Spirit to teach you. Be still and listen. Be still and know God.
Thank you, our God, for your constant work of bringing nations to the table, churches into communion with each other, families into unity. Make us instruments of unity and peace.
Today for the Alleluia verse we begin the seven "O Antiphons". These titles of Jesus form the verses for the song, "O Come, O Come Emmanuel". We might say the Incarnation itself begins with Wisdom. "When all things were in quiet stillness, your almighty Word, O God, leapt down," and the Word of God is Wisdom incarnate. Matthew is interested in tracing Jesus' ancestry back to the father of the Jews, Abraham, although Jesus' Davidic origins are not clear, since it is Joseph who is David's direct descendent, not Mary. Abraham is revered as father of Islam as well.
You too are a descendent of Abraham, as are the Christians, Jews and Muslims whom you know. Pray for unity among these "people of the Book" who revere Jesus and Mary. BEG God to remove prejudice from the hearts of all Christians, that we might open wide our tents and our hearts in this season.
Come, O Wisdom, of our God most high, guiding creation with power and love. Teach us to walk in the path of knowledge. Alleluia!
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