The Holy Family: A Gift of Obedient Love
The Feast of the Holy Family is a beautiful celebration, but I must confess that when I was young the choice of the gospel for this day was a bit confusing to me. We celebrate the Nativity of Jesus only days before, beginning the season of Christmas with the baby Jesus finally making an entrance into our crèche displays and celebrations. And then surprisingly, inside of seven days the gospel turns to a twelve year old Jesus! It had not occurred to me that the reason the gospel moves so quickly to the boy Jesus is not because of history or chronology, but it is because it gives us an insight into the relationship between Jesus and His parents, emphasizing the theme of obedience. I daresay that for most of us this theme is not very appealing. On the one hand we enjoy our peaceful scenes with the baby Jesus, and on the other, the word ‘obedience’ makes us cringe: it is not attractive to our culture at all! Our distaste for the concept really is a shame, because obedience stems from love, not from subservience. It is a misplaced focus on self which misleads us. Obedience understood as subservience is about ‘me;’ obedience understood as rooted in love is about the other, in this case, God. Therefore, the Feast of the Holy Family offers a wonderful opportunity to re-direct our understanding about what it means to be obedient to God and to put our focus back where it belongs. As it was with Mary, Joseph, and Jesus, we come to see that obedience brings incredible graces, particularly love, deep peace, and joy.
The biblical concept of obedience is the one which will help us to understand the choices of the Holy Family in response to God. Historically, obedience had been completely understood as keeping the covenant, and keeping the covenant meant accepting the love of God implicitly and then returning it as best as humanly possible. For them, (as for us), this meant that the response was bound to be flawed because humans are imperfect. However, they learned that the best response that can be given is sincerity, and this was what counted most with God: that one’s intention arises from love for Him. The covenant, then, was rightly interpreted as a monumental act of love on God’s part because through it He offered the people guidelines to keep them safe. If we look to Exodus and the Law, we see that the Israelites who accepted it were overcome with joy when it was given. (In Exodus 24:3 the people accepted the covenant and to ratify it, Moses made a sacrifice to God.)* Clearly, the people understood that the Law was meant as an act of love on God’s part because they recognized and accepted that His wisdom was beyond theirs and that His statutes and commandments were ways God was protecting them from all manner of harm. As a result, they viewed the law not as constricting, but rather as freeing. In this light, obedience and wisdom are inextricably connected: the obedient one is the wise one. Another way of putting this is that the obedient one is the holy one.
Mary is a model of this loving obedience. Her holiness sprang from a love of God so deep that she could not conceive (pun unintended) of doing anything contrary to that love; she knew she was created from Love for Love. So when an angel unexpectedly appeared and told her what God desired in terms of her participation, she agreed humbly. Remember, because true obedience stems from love, one is free at all times and so her free response of utter and complete trust, “May it be done to me according to your word,” was an obedient acquiescence steeped in “love beyond all telling.” (Advent Eucharistic prayer) Furthermore, Mary trusted so completely that she was able to go to the hill country to tend to her pregnant, but aged cousin on nothing more than the angel’s word. Upon her return, she continued to obey by entrusting news of her pregnancy to her betrothed, Joseph, a message that he perceived as coming from an infidelity on her part. Mary’s obedience was such that she was willing to risk Joseph’s understandable rejection of her which would mean she would have been an unwed mother, a crime under the Law. But her obedience, and hence her holiness, meant God’s obedience, too: He adhered to His promise that all would be as He had said.
Joseph was also a man of obedience and love. Remember that from his vantage point, his soon-to-be-wife Mary had left town for about three months, and when she came home she revealed that she was pregnant. He was going to adhere to the Law, but God sent the angel Gabriel back to Nazareth to tell Joseph that Mary’s story was true, and so instead of blindly obeying the Law, he obeyed the Love of God. He took Mary in, quietly married her, and was content to be in the background for the rest of his life.** Joseph’s love for God and for Mary was so great that even when he did not understand, he trusted God’s plan. Nor did he resign himself to obscurity with a shrug and a sigh: rather, he embraced it for the sake of his beloved God, his beloved wife, and his beloved son, Jesus. He understood obedience correctly: it is about the other and not about self.
The gospel for this Feast also contains the theme of obedience as an act of love. At twelve Jesus was still considered a child and as such He was deeply bound to his parents’ instruction and discipline. What we learn is that Jesus, still growing in wisdom and knowledge, thought that in teaching the scholars in the Temple, He was obeying His Father in Heaven. But in staying behind He had caused concern to the ones to whom He had been entrusted, even if His actions were well-intentioned. Remarkably, when Mary told Jesus that He needed to come home, implying that His time for teaching had not yet come, He obeyed her. *** The last two lines of the passage are the most important: “He went down with them…and was obedient to them…. And Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and favor before God and man.” (Luke 2:51-52) Jesus, though fully divine, was also fully human: therefore, growing in wisdom, He recognized the love of His parents as God’s love.
We learn from this important feast that obedience is about love and that it brings peace and joy. We learn that when we are obedient to God, we grow in wisdom and therefore, in holiness. Obedience also teaches us that the only way to be with another in love is to be open and listening. That means we must first take this posture with God, something we can develop by spending time with Him in prayer. All we need is a heart which intends to be open and the desire to make a response as we can. It means we develop trust in God, accepting that sometimes obedience means we will not understand what is asked of us. Just as what God asked Mary and Joseph to do was beyond their ability to understand, we will have times when even stretching our farthest will not be enough to comprehend the way of God or the outcome of a situation. But if we desire to grow in obedience we can ask Mary and Joseph to help us so that our response is as sincere and grounded in the love of God as theirs was. Once we become grounded in that love and love becomes our motivation, and once we focus on God and not on self, we will desire to have it no other way.
On this Feast of the Holy Family we are invited into a deeper love, a deeper holiness, and hence, a deeper peace and joy. As we gather around the crèche let us pray that it is a time of getting inside the experience of Mary and Joseph so that we see the value of obedience as flowing from love and not from subservience or oppression. And if we catch even the smallest glimpse of this truth, we can take it from the crèche out into the world. If we can understand that obedience is of love, and hence it is free, we can offer the freedom of being loved by God to others, too. In our kindness in the face of ugliness, in our mercy in the face of neglect, in our compassion in the face of unforgiveness, and in our selfless acts for others which are sometimes met by ingratitude and selfishness, let us consider that this is how we bring Jesus to others. Our world does not like the concept of obedience because it sees it as oppressive and values a misguided freedom, which at its heart is about license to act however one wants and thus is self-centered. Instead, the message of the Holy Family is that true obedience is about the freedom which comes from the wisdom of God, a free gift of love to which we respond freely. In our offering of self to Jesus this Christmas, we offer a paltry, unrefined, flawed gift, but one which He values more than all the gold, frankincense, and myrrh in the universe.
May we open our hearts to the wisdom of true obedience! May we find the peace and joy which come from trusting God in the way of Mary and Joseph! May we be filled with the joy of belonging to the Holy Family as members of the Body of Christ! May we be unafraid to offer ourselves as gift to Jesus during this Christmas season! And may we find joy and blessing in our humble worship, as one people around the manger with Mary and Joseph, angels and shepherds, and all manner of wise folk! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
Notes: Next post on January 14, 2019.
* See Deuteronomy 4:32-40 to read about God’s love for His people from the beginning; Deuteronomy 7:12-15 and following also.
** Remember to regard the gospel passages together, as a whole, to get a more complete description from the birth narratives: Matthew 1:18-25 and Luke 2:1-7.
*** Interestingly, it would be Mary who would indicate later when the time had in fact come for Jesus to begin His ministry. (John 2)
Final Note: The other readings of the Feast of the Holy Family also provide examples of biblical obedience. The 1st reading is about Hannah. The passage is excised from a rich, almost humorous, story: a previously barren Hannah wisely obeys the instruction of the High Priest and is able to bring forth Samuel, a son destined for greatness. (I encourage reading the entire passage: 1 Samuel 1-19.) In the 2nd reading, St. Paul also extols the wisdom of obedience. He writes: “Let the peace of Christ control your hearts….Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly….” (Colossians 3:15, 16) He reminds us that obedience to the Law of Love means that we try to act as Jesus taught. It is not that Paul was unaware that our response would be flawed, but rather that we would try to re-focus our response on God rather than to focus upon ourselves. This obedience once again, is about love, not blind adherence to rules.
1. The Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, by Fr. William Hart McNichols: I chose this image of the Holy Family for its simplicity so that it speaks for itself. If you are interested in purchasing a copy in one of many mediums, you can find this image at https://fineartamerica.com/featured/the-nativity-of-our-lord-jesus-christ-034-william-hart-mcnichols.html.
2. One of my photos, taken in New Zealand at Larnach Castle in Dunedin (South Island): I chose this because the leaves seem to be obedient to the laws of nature, stretching toward Heaven in a gesture of praise to God for the very laws which govern them.
3. A painting by Bl. Fra Angelico which depicts the Visitation: I chose this one because I love the presence of the other two women who are witnessing the obedient love and service of Mary to her elder cousin, Elizabeth. (I especially like the one peering around the doorway.)
4. An icon called St. Joseph and the Holy Child by Fr. William Hart McNichols: I liked that this particular icon shows Jesus as an older child, not an infant, and also that part of Joseph's face is obscured, but so too is the face of Jesus. It is as if Jesus is 'absorbing' some of the obscurity of Joseph and making it His for 30 years. (Remember, Jesus was totally hidden until he was 30 years of age.) You can find it at https://fineartamerica.com/featured/st-joseph-and-the-holy-child-239-william-hart-mcnichols.html.
5. The Child Jesus in the Temple by Duccio di Buoninsegna, (1255/60-1315). One can clearly see Mary and Joseph imploring Him to come home. He is obviously attentive to them, and so He obeyed.
6. I took this photo while hiking down Gornergrat, a mountain just outside Zermatt, Switzerland. Our guide pointed out this chamois, a creature that is a mix of deer and mountain goat. They have horrible eyesight, but they can hear and smell with incredible sensitivity. It is clear that it caught our scent and it can be seen at attention, listening for our movement. I got this quick photo, and therefore could not be picky about the weed in the middle of it since the chamois darted off almost immediately after the shot. As in the text, it stretched to its furthest to get the information it needed and responded immediately.
7. Stained glass of the Holy Family: What is especially attractive in this amazing artwork is how the magi, seen on the right of the piece, are depicted. They do not look at all regal, and in fact, they look rather ordinary, and therefore, more humble than we usually see them portrayed. In fact, they do not look very different from the shepherds on the left side, but given that they are offering gold, frankincense, and myrrh, they are indeed the magi seen as examples of obedient, humble love.
NOTE: In compliance with GDPR rules, I wish to make it clear that I do not gather any information on any of my readers at any time.
A Humble Season
When we think about the characteristics which define the season of Advent the first word that perhaps comes to mind is ‘waiting.’ Indeed, it is a time of reflection and patient waiting for the time of fulfillment to be at hand, to paraphrase the evangelist Luke. Unfortunately we live in a culture which does not like to wait for anything, and with all the distractions which abound it can be difficult to be patient until the moment when Christmas arrives. It is actually beneficial for us to enter into the struggle of waiting, sitting in the tension between the pressure to hurry up and the contrasting spiritual virtue of being patient, because in this we can discover insights into the experience of Mary and Joseph who had to wait the normal nine months for their child to be born; or that of the nation which had been waiting for centuries for the Messiah to come. In that light, how difficult can four weeks be? Of course, in the spiritual life, (as in the whole of our lives), we know that we are constantly waiting, and it is in the waiting that we find God. But another important virtue which accompanies the patient waiting of Advent is the humility it takes to do so. To wait is among the most humble things a person can do because it means we are acknowledging that time and eternity are not in our control. Thus Advent becomes a humble season, not just because of the holy ones we contemplate, but it is humble because we are being invited to enter into their ranks. When we wait, we acknowledge our powerlessness and our inability to do anything without the gift of God.
Throughout Advent we hear Scriptures which highlight the process of waiting and which encourage us to be ready for fulfilment at a time we do not know. The prophets express the benefits of waiting as well as the glory of God which will be revealed. It is not just the difficult messages which they bear, but they tell us that God is ready to bring healing, peace, and joy as He comes into the world through His great love. A prophet who always has a large presence throughout Advent is Isaiah. With eloquent prose he describes the Prince of Peace who will come. In his day Isaiah was a powerful figure, a prophet of great renown, and as such he had followers which sometimes included the current king. Therefore, it is his contemporary, and very probably such a follower, to whom we turn as our final guide in prophetic living: the prophet Micah. We know little about this man, except that he came from an obscure, humble village in the foothills of Judea.
The passage we hear on the fourth Sunday of Advent when our waiting is at its height, is the ultimate description of the humility of this season: “But you, Bethlehem-Ephrathah, too small to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel; whose origin is from old….” (Micah 5:1) God chose an insignificant town, so small that the people of Judea could barely identify it, to bring forth the fulfillment of His promise. Bethlehem was the place of origin of David the great king, yet it had become so obscure and his clan so small that no one expected another leader to come forth from that place. Many people in this area were poor, the area was one of the humblest places in the land. Micah, also from an obscure village, truly understood the profound depth of this reality: God, who is supremely glorious, would come to the humblest place among the lowliest people, to make His entry into the world. Micah emphasized this to teach something profound about God: He comes to a humble place because God is humble! Micah must have learned this truth from Isaiah who taught that we are not the only ones who wait. “Yet the Lord is waiting to show you favor, and He rises to pity you; for the Lord is a God of justice: blessed are all who wait for him!” (Isaiah 30:18) The Almighty humbly waits for our readiness and forces nothing upon us. He waited to send His Son; He waited to show the people His mercy and love; He waited to bring them justice from oppression. And so He humbly waits for us.
Micah gave us an important insight when he showed us that greatness and humility are not opposites. Rather, we learn that to be holy means we recognize that greatness is found in humility. He wrote that the Messiah would be like a shepherd and that His greatness would extend to the end of the earth (Micah 5:3). This seems like a contradiction in terms, but Micah knew that it takes a tremendous strength to remain humble when one has power. Power can corrupt unless the mighty one is grounded in a relationship of accountability, trust, and humility. Jesus, though divine, was accountable to the promise made by the Father; in His humanness He had to trust in that same promise, and in humility and vulnerability He came to fulfill it. God the Almighty came as a tiny baby, to an obscure couple in a ‘forgotten’ village. And Micah, reminiscent of the words of Isaiah, tells us: “He shall be peace.” (Micah 5:4)
From Micah, then, we learn an important lesson in prophetic living. We learn that patience and peacefulness, kindness and humility are what make us strong. We learn that to live prophetically we draw our strength from the Humble One, Jesus the Lord for whom we wait. Just as Mary humbly gave herself to the service of the Lord, saying to the angel Gabriel: “May it be it done to me according to your word,” and just as Joseph followed the instructions of the same angel in so much humility that he acquiesced to becoming one of the most obscure saints of all (and thus one of the greatest); just as John the Baptist was able to announce that one was coming who was mightier than himself; just as the shepherds were out in the fields watching their flocks, the humblest of all and yet most open to God; and just as Micah was in the shadow of the great prophet Isaiah, so too are we called to humility, ‘quiet’ service, and peace.
Advent is the humblest time of the year. It is not mere symbolism or even sentimentality which calls us to contemplate the crèches we have in our homes and churches. It is not an exercise in ‘good psychology’ or a giving in to being so tired that we are helpless to do much else other than stare at the scene, (though if that is what it takes, so be it.) Advent teaches us to be like Micah, one who hears the word and speaks it verbatim,* a message of hope, of peace, and of openness to the flow of God’s time. He teaches us to embrace our powerlessness over God’s timing, something which offers grace, not ineffectiveness. He teaches us that to live prophetically we have to slow down, let the silence open our hearts and minds to God’s Word. Prophetic living springs forth from the listening, the discerning, the laying down of our need to do things our way and in our time, and therefore, enables us to allow God to come in His way, at His time, and in the way that is most needed. There is strength in that humility, and thus there is glory: God’s glory. As Micah tells us, “His greatness will reach to the ends of the earth: He shall be peace.” But it is Jesus' disciples, you and I, who will bring His greatness to the world through the strength we have learned from the prophets and from His heeded message.
Finally, Micah tells us that God requires (only) one thing from us, which is “to do the right and to love goodness, and to walk humbly with our God.” (Micah 6:8) Perhaps that is the most important message we can receive concerning how to live prophetically. It implies that we are kind, just, willing to serve, and humble. In other words, we are to bear peace when we live prophetically, emptying ourselves completely to the time and desires of God, who is Himself humble because He waits for us to offer ourselves completely to Him. Once we make such an offer, we will be able to see the goodness of Justice and Mercy, even though we may not understand. To be humble is to trust God and to accept that we are powerless to comprehend many things and that much is out of our control; it is to trust that He carries us under the shadow of His wing, ready to come again, so that we might be with Him forever. Therefore let us embrace this humble season, let us join with Mary and Joseph in the empty stable, let us work for justice with John the Baptist, and with Micah let us learn to walk humbly with our God.
May we continue to open our hearts to the beauty of the humble season of Advent! May we find serenity in our contemplation of our Nativity scenes and thus discover blessing in the waiting! May we recognize that humility is our strength and that kindness is our call in the midst of a culture filled with the message of self-aggrandizement! May we learn through the example and words of Micah that our holiness lies in our lowliness! May we learn to do the right, love goodness, and walk humbly with our God! And in humility, may we join Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds and kings in adoration, wonder, awe, and gratitude at the coming of our Lord Jesus into our world! Peace! Maranatha! Come, Emmanuel, come!
©Michele L. Catanese
Note: Next post December 31. (Joyous Christmas to all!)
* See Isaiah 2:2-4 and Micah 4:1-3. They are identical.
1. This painting is part of a triptych painted by Fr. William Hart McNichols. This one is called Study for Winter Trees of Life. I chose it because it is a humble scene which seems to heighten a sense of waiting. I love the candle in the left corner, beneath the tree, which appears to speak of hope and comfort: the Light of the World, perhaps. You can find this image at https://fineartamerica.com/featured/study-for-winter-trees-of-life-299-william-hart-mcnichols.html
The triptych is found at https://fineartamerica.com/featured/tree-triptych-for-rivera-funeral-home-220-william-hart-mcnichols.html
2. This is an icon of the prophet Micah found in the iconostasis of Transfiguration Church in Kizhi Monastery in Karelia, Russia. I found it on a Wikipedia page, admittedly, but I liked it because I believe the scroll he is holding has the words of Micah 6:8 quoted later in this post. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Micah_(prophet)
3. This map is of ancient Judea, to which I have highlighted in yellow the two obscure, small towns mentioned in the post. The one on the far left, west, near the Mediterranean Sea is actually Gath, which was a large city. But Micah's hometown, Moresheth, was not far from Gath. His town was too small to be on any map! The other highlighted town is Bethlehem-Ephrathah. For those with good eyes, you will see Jerusalem just north and a bit east of Bethlehem. I chose the map to give a sense of perspective of the area and how humble those towns mentioned really were. I found the map at https://www.conformingtojesus.com/charts-maps/en/map_of_ancient_roman_judea.htm
4. This painting is called Bluebell Wood by Nicholas Hely Hutchinson. I chose it because it seemed to resonate with the passage: "He shall be peace." This wood seems peaceful, somewhere I would love to walk.
5. This icon is called Mother of God Waiting in Adoration by Fr. William Hart McNichols. As I said in the last entry, I can hardly imagine an Advent reflection without an image of Mary. She is in prayer, but in a posture of humility. Although she is already pregnant in this icon, it seems as if she is saying yet again to the Lord: "May it be it done to me according to your word." You can find this icon at https://fineartamerica.com/featured/mother-of-god-waiting-in-adoration-248-william-hart-mcnichols.html
6. This is one of my photos taken in the Tirolean Alps in Austria. We had stopped by the side of the road for a stretch break and this was the view. It is true that mountains are humbling in their majesty. The way the sun was emerging from behind the peaks gave me a sense of the glory of God.
7. I took this photo of part of my crèche scene at home. It may seem silly that Mary and Joseph are looking adoringly at an empty crib, but I do this every year as a way to highlight their anticipation and joy, and hence my own. They are reflecting upon what is to come and Who is to come.
8. Since this post is the last one of Advent and the next entry will not come until after Christmas, it seemed fitting to end with the four candles of the Advent wreath lit.
NOTE: In compliance with GDPR rules, I wish to make it clear that I do not gather any information on any of my readers at any time.
With His Mercy and Justice for Company
Advent has begun, and though our intentions may be good, when the season comes to a close we could find that it came and went without our ever having delved into its richness and beauty, but that instead we spent the time trying to ‘beat the clock’ to Christmas. It is true that for some this time can be stressful rather than filled with the joy which is truly at the heart of the season. But these four weeks do offer us an opportunity to deepen our lives of faith as we await the coming of Jesus; there is a way to keep a healthy balance between our ‘secular’ activities and spiritual life. If we look to the Scripture readings for each Sunday of Advent (and better yet, if we pray with the readings for each day of the season) and reflect upon their message throughout the week which follows, we can immerse ourselves in Advent themes. It does take discipline to keep Jesus as our focus when things get busy, but we do not have to avoid the various activities and festivities which present themselves. In fact, we can sanctify every aspect of these next weeks by consciously doing everything with our heart centered on the coming of Christ.
Advent begins with a sense of anticipation for all that is to come throughout the season, culminating at Christmas. So when we hear the opening words of the first (Sunday) reading of Advent, we can begin to direct every aspect of our December journey toward becoming infused with the sacred: “The days are coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and Judah. In those days, in that time, I will raise up for David a just shoot; he shall do what is right and just in the land.” (Jeremiah 33:14-15)* With these words we are reminded that no matter what happens in the next four weeks, the most important thing is to remember that God fulfills His promises because of His great love, always within the context of mercy and justice. As we prepare for Christmas and desire to participate in the season of Advent without losing its richness, we can look to all of our encounters as opportunities for offering mercy and being just; that is, to act with respect for the dignity of others. Not only will Advent become a time of great depth, but we will grow in holiness, preparing for the return of the Lord in due course.
The Old Testament readings for the Sundays of the first two weeks of Advent, respectively from the Book of Jeremiah and the Book of Baruch, are a good place to begin, and a little background will help in understanding the connection between the two men. Jeremiah was a major prophet and Baruch was Jeremiah’s scribe, recording his prophecies. Thus, the prophecies and letters in the Book of Jeremiah, the Book of Lamentations, and the Book of Baruch are all the words of Jeremiah as recorded by Baruch. They were friends, and to Baruch’s credit, he was one of the few who stuck with Jeremiah when all others turned against him. But Baruch was not a prophet! Despite this fact, Baruch teaches us a profound lesson: we can live prophetically without having to be a prophet!
There is an important distinction about what it meant to be a prophet in the Old Testament. The Hebrew word which is translated to ‘prophet’ is ‘nabi,’ which means “God’s mouthpiece.” Prophets did not foretell the future; rather, they confronted the people when God was displeased with their behavior, (breaking the covenant), and then tried to encourage a return to God lest calamity would befall them. God did give the prophet knowledge of what could happen if the people persisted in their sinfulness, but the prophet had no way of knowing if it would actually happen or how it would happen because they did not know how the people would respond. The prophet was a messenger and therefore he (or she)** was not a judge of the people: judging was God’s job. Thus, Jeremiah was a ‘mouthpiece’ for God, speaking His word consistently for many years. Since Baruch was the man who recorded Jeremiah’s words, we could say he was ‘the mouthpiece for the mouthpiece.’ Or we could say that he learned to live prophetically by literally following in the footsteps of Jeremiah, going where he went, assisting him, and even risking his own life by rescuing him from prison as Jerusalem fell. Baruch made sure the words of Jeremiah found their audience, often doing so quite heroically and at great risk to his own safety.
In the Old Testament reading for the First Sunday of Advent, Jeremiah proclaims the fulfillment of God’s promise through the coming of the Messiah (Jeremiah 33:14-16). And on the Second Sunday we hear: “Jerusalem, take off your robe of mourning… put on the splendor of glory from God forever,” and that "God is leading Israel in joy by the light of His glory, with His mercy and justice for company.” (Baruch 5:1-9) In this, Baruch emphasizes another lesson in living prophetically: to live with hope. While the gospels for these same weeks are seemingly in stark contrast, and one describes the coming of Christ on a day that will “assault them” (Luke 21:35), we need to remember that the message there is intended for those who are not prepared for Jesus to return because they have rejected God outright or have neglected any kind of relationship with Him. For them, the coming of Jesus will be difficult: His judgment, even though accompanied by mercy, will be sudden and severe. But for those who have heeded the message of Jeremiah, as revealed by Baruch, hope lies in being prepared through the sincerity of our love, (not in our perfection): for the faithful, mercy will be the mainstay, and judgment will find them worthy and ready. These readings are a strong lesson in prophetic living, which is that we live with hope and that our hope should be shared.
Thus, Baruch teaches us that to live prophetically is to have the hope which prepares us at every moment for the Messiah to come into our midst. He teaches us that to be heroic in our hope we need to make sure the message is shared. He teaches us to seek mercy and to give it, and he teaches us to be just in order to work toward greater justice in the world. Finally, Baruch teaches us that we must learn to listen and discern. To have aligned with Jeremiah who was treated as a pariah, and to have spent his life writing and distributing his words meant that Baruch had to pray about what he heard and to recognize whether the message was consistent with what God had revealed in the past. Therefore, he had to truly hear the message, pray over it, and then act upon it.
In order to enter into Advent more fully we need to act as a messenger in the way in which Baruch did. That means we listen to the Lord in our prayer and we reflect over the words of the Advent Scripture readings, letting them take root in our hearts. It only takes a few minutes each day to do this. And like Baruch, we must be willing to act a bit heroically with kindness, peace, and love. We do this by offering respect and dignity (through our time, talent, and/or treasure) to the poor, the lonely, the downtrodden, the depressed, the ill, the marginalized, and the outcast, welcoming them into our friendship. We need to let mercy and justice be our company, bringing love to those who are without it, forgiving those who have wronged us, and working for a more just world through our actions. We must break down the walls of prejudice and hatred by being open to the alien and welcoming to the stranger. We must be an example of mercy and compassion to those who are not merciful and compassionate. In doing so, we will be living the message of the One for whom we wait: Jesus.
This way of living is not only prophetic living, it is Advent living. It is inviting the Word into our world anew, preparing a place for Jesus in our heart so His love can transform our seasonal activities: all our celebrations with friends and families, our dinner preparations, gift choosing and giving, our singing and decorating, become the secular made sacred. Letting everything in our lives become sanctified is what the spiritual life is about. Therefore, we look to the day of Jesus’ coming with joy knowing that “all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” (Luke 3:6) As we ready the stable for His arrival, and as we ready our hearts to greet Him, let us rejoice that when Jesus comes, He will have mercy and justice for company.
May we welcome the season of Advent! May we have the discipline to spend quality time with the Scriptures of Advent every day! May we recognize the presence of God who comes with mercy and justice for company! May we be inspired by the friendship of Jeremiah and Baruch, that we might be filled with gratitude for the friends who accompany us! May we be like Baruch, willing to spread God’s message in word and deed! And may we find comfort in all the holy ones who come to us during Advent, John the Baptist, the angel Gabriel, Mary and Joseph, Zechariah and Elizabeth, who teach us how to wait in reflection and joyful expectation, and then to act on what we learn! Let us meet in our prayer, awaiting the birth of our Lord, Jesus! Maranatha! Come, Emmanuel, come!
©Michele L. Catanese
* The translation I am using for all the Scripture passages is the New American Bible.
** By the definition I have used, Deborah, (Book of Judges) was considered a prophet.
Note: Next post will be December 17.
1. This is a photo I took on a rare snow day in Houston a few years back. The lemon on the tree, and all the plants, were 'surprised' by snow in December that year. I chose this picture for the opening of the entry because it seemed like winter, and obviously Advent, was in a hurry to come that year. There is a lesson in readiness here.
2. This incredible painting is called The Appearance of Christ Before the People, by Russian artist Alexander Andreyevich Ivanov. (1837-57) I love this because it shows Jesus coming over a hill into the scene as John the Baptizer points to Him declaring: "Behold, the Lamb of God!" The future apostles Peter, Andrew, John, and Nathaniel are there, as well as the rich young man who would have an encounter with Jesus later on. I found this on a website which is worth a look at, (Aletieia) along with other artistic works, and that is where I obtained the explanation as well. https://aleteia.org/slideshow/slideshow-russian-art-goes-to-the-vatican
3. This is an icon of Jeremiah and Baruch which is housed in the Heritage Museum in Amsterdam. It was one of the few icons I could find which depicted both men.
4. I took this photo of Mont Blanc in the French Alps during a recent trip to Europe. I thought it would be appropriate here because it speaks of the glory and splendor of God.
5. Since I emphasized that prophetic living includes living with hope which we share, it only seemed right that I have this icon accompany the text. This is Mother of Holy Hope, by Fr. William Hart McNichols. It would be inappropriate, in my mind, to write an Advent blog without a pregnant Mary accompanying it. No one speaks to Advent more than Mary, the Mother of our Lord. You can find this icon at https://fineartamerica.com/featured/mother-of-holy-hope-263-william-hart-mcnichols.html
6 & 7. I chose to use the Advent wreath with one candle lit since this will be posted for the first week in Advent. But since I referred to the readings of week 1 and 2, and because I will not be posting again until week 3, it seemed like there should be both candles lit at the end of the post.
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Heart Speaks to Heart