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.
We have two themes today: house, in the first reading; and obedience of faith, in Paul. Both are integrated in the person of Mary, the heroine of our gospel passage. In 2 Samuel, David is distraught because he lives in a fine house of cedar while the ark of God (where God is present) is housed only in a tent. God plays on the word house, promising David another kind of house, a long line of descendants. What has this to do with the annunciation scene in the gospel? When we hear, "the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us," whether in John's prologue or the Angelus, the "dwelt" means to pitch a tent. Literally, the Word of God-made-flesh in Mary's womb is in solidarity with the homeless of this world, pitching his tent among us. "Be it done to me according to your word," Mary responds to the angel in an obedience which will stretch her faith all her life long.
And you? When have you tried to capture God, pin down our tenting God? Mary's obedience is not blind; she questions the angel. When have you questioned God, and what happened? How do you obey God in day to day experiences? Let the Spirit bubble up the memories and feelings.
Today, as we hear your voice, O God, soften our hearts that we may exclaim with Mary: Be it done to me according to your word. Deepen our trust in your word, in Jesus.
First we hear of the Judge Samson's birth to a woman thought barren, and then the promise to Zechariah that his own barren wife, Elizabeth, would bear a son. Both babies are moved by the spirit. The Ronald Knox translation states: The Spirit of the Lord wrapped Samson ‘round. John will be blessed "with the spirit and power of Elijah." But Zechariah doubts, asks questions of the angel as Mary will in just a few verses, only he is struck dumb. Meanwhile, his wife is rejoicing to be pregnant. "O come, Flower of Jesse's stem, sign of God's love..." The flowering of barren women is another messianic sign.
Let us pray today for barren women and sterile men, those who long for a child. Let us pray for those held up by bureaucracy in trying to adopt a child here or abroad. For those who choose not to have children because they prefer possessions. For those who treat their children as possessions. That every child feel wrapped in the Spirit-Comforter, especially those suffering homelessness and hunger. Continue imagining and holding before God all those men, women and children who are in need of the Spirit's comfort this season....
"A Flower blossoms ‘mid the snow!" You are the flower of all humanity, Jesus, and how we long for you to make all of us fruitful. Growing in us the fruits of your Spirit: love, peace, joy, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, responsibility for our choices, interior freedom....
Perhaps for the third or fourth time this month we hear the story of the angel asking Mary's consent to motherhood. Yet thousands of Catholics around the world pray this first joyful mystery of the rosary over and over each week. Thousands pray the Angelus, if not three times, then once a day. "The angel of the Lord declared unto Mary. And she conceived by the Holy Spirit....Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to your word.... The word was made flesh and dwells among us." "O Key of David...free the prisoners of darkness." "Open the gates before him," cries the psalmist. Prisoners of darkness, mired in sin or sunk in depression, often feel so powerful to open, and so the Key of David is the one who frees.
Let us pray for those sunk in sin, addiction, depression or other forms of darkness. Let us ask the Key, Jesus, to open those dark and secret places of our hearts of which we are ashamed or frightened. Then after the "dying" prayer, let us "rise" with Christ and find our own first joyful mystery. When did you experience the joy of God, the first time or recently?
Behold, O God, your servants. Be it done to us according to your word. Help us to open our hearts to your Word dwelling among us and within us, and let him free us even more completely from anything to which we cling.
Our first reading may be familiar from the song, "And the Father Will Dance". The psalmist urges us to cry out with joy and sing a new song. In the gospel, in the Greek, when Elizabeth greets Mary she gives a "loud shout." Those who people the Jewish scriptures are exuberant in their joys and drowned in their sorrows. Nothing lukewarm about their expressions of feeling! And so their God is a God who dances for joy, who rages, who carries us tenderly. When Paul brought the good news of this God to the Mediterranean world, some of the exuberance of God was dimmed by the Stoics who had reasoned to a God who is beyond passion, a-patheia. Too often our God is without passion, cold, distant, and apathetic. Not the God of Paul, Jesus, Mary, Elizabeth.
If you are alone right now, what loud shout would you give to God? Try it. Then quiet enough to picture God dancing because God so rejoices in your being, just as you are. Listen to the loud shout of God, racing down the road to meet you. We call that Incarnation.
Stir up our passions, O Emmanuel, so that we make music to honor you, dance and leap like John in the womb of Elizabeth. We are in your womb, God, with Jesus. Let us leap in joy with him.
The context of our first reading includes the story of Hannah's weeping so copiously, so much does she want a child, that the priest Eli accuses her of being drunk. Now the child is born and we hear that she is "lending" Samuel to God. On the other hand, God lends Mary her son, lends Elizabeth her son. Samuel enjoys a long and distinguished career as a wise man of Israel. The sons of Mary and Elizabeth are destroyed by hatred. Yet God vindicates them. "Come, O King of all nations, source of your church's unity and faith! Save all people, your own creation."
Let us pray to the King of all nations that violence and hatred be wiped away, that unity and peace replace factions and war. Name some nations who need your prayers.
Deliver us, Jesus, from every evil and grant us peace in our day. In your mercy protect us from all useless anxiety, especially fear of each other, as we wait in joyful hope for your coming again in glory.
"Come, O Emmanuel, God's presence among us..." What is God thinking, to become human in such a poor, frail, weak way--a mere infant? We so often address God in our liturgy as Almighty. Thus we are so often disappointed, even angry with God, when God doesn't rescue us or our loved ones. God is all-powerful we are told, so why does God fail? When Malachi mentions Elijah we need to remember that Elijah did many wonders, even raising the dead. Jesus' miracles are not what makes him unique. What makes him unique is that he is God-in-the-flesh, human, of the earth, humble, with all the limitations of a mortal body and a searching mind. He emptied himself. He is God with us. He doesn't rescue but his power is in his staying with us, no matter what the situation.
Jesus, in Gethsemane you asked your apostles to stay and keep watch with you. Now Mary and Joseph invite us to stay with them and keep watch for your coming. Thank you for your staying power, all through our lives.
In our first reading God makes a covenant with the sinful David, offering God's unconditional love. The psalm lauds that love "which lasts forever." In the gospel, Zechariah begins to speak again and blesses God with the hymn used in the morning office: the Benedictus. "Blessed be the Lord..." The priest then addresses his newborn son, John: "You, child, will be called the prophet of the most high...By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace." We respond with the O antiphon: Come, O radiant Dawn...
Where do you need God's tender mercy? Who in your circle needs light? Who needs peace? Pray that Christ will be dawn, promising full sunshine, even more unconditional love in this New Covenant initiated in the incarnation.
"Come, O radiant Dawn, splendor of eternal light, sun of justice. Shine on all those lost in the darkness of death." In the darkness of war, famine, depression, loneliness, despair. Come!
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