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December 2 - December 15, 2012

Jesus made Paul what he is and he will do the same for us

Perspectives on the Scriptures Father Patrick O'Malley

Second Sunday of Advent: Dec. 9

Bar 5:1-9, Phil 1:4-11, Lk 3:1-6

After last week’s dire warning from Jesus, we might prefer a more palatable message. All three readings from this week’s liturgy supply that necessary good news.

Centuries before Jesus, the Jewish prophet, Baruch, proclaimed a message aimed at picking up the spirits of his down-trodden people. “For God is leading Israel in joy by the light of his glory with his mercy and justice for company.” That particular prophecy did lift the spirits of the people, and reminded them that God had not forgotten them in their trials and tribulations.

St. Paul writes to the people of Philippi that he is confident that “the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus.” That is the Holy Spirit he is talking about, and Paul trusts that the Spirit will continue to enliven the believers in Philippi.

He goes on to tell the people of his undying affection for them; he wishes them only the best.

Sometimes Paul can be a bit of a grouch when offering advice to his people (especially the Corinthians and Romans). But, in this letter, he is as genuinely caring as he can be.

In the Gospel, Luke establishes right off the bat that the events he is about to relate are taking place in real time. That is why he lists the civil and religious rulers who are in office at that moment when John the Baptist comes roaring out of the wilderness with his world-changing message.

John is like the last powerful prophet of the Hebrew tradition, and his message reflects God’s serious fulfillment of a centuries-old promise.

Though his words aggressively call for a change of heart in his listeners, John is a ray of light in the darkness Israel has experienced for many, many years. “Prepare the way of the Lord …” he shouts out enthusiastically and lovingly. Get ready; great things are about to happen.

Two thousand years later, those provocative words may have lost their edge for us. We hear them once again and we effectively go, “Ho, hum!”

Maybe that is because Jesus did come and we have heard him and we have learned from him. We may truly be jaded through no fault of our own.

So, what can we do to once more welcome and relish the Good News announced by John and brought to fulfillment in Jesus Christ? St. Paul points the way when he speaks of the things the Philippians have taken to heart: Honor and justice, purity and excellence and graciousness. He tops it all when he says, “Keep on doing what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me. Then the God of peace will be with you.”

Paul learned everything from Jesus; he passes it on to his people and asks them to imitate him. It’s not about Paul’s ego; it’s fact. Jesus made Paul what he is, and Jesus will do the same for each and every one of us.

Third Sunday of Advent: Dec. 16

Zep 3:14-18, Phil 4:4-7, Lk 3:10- 18

Even the New York Times gets it wrong occasionally. Recently, the Times’ daily crossword puzzle offered the clue “4th Sunday of Advent.” The answer was the Latin word, “laetare”; sorry, guys and gals, but that’s the Latin name we give the third Sunday of Advent, the feast we celebrate this weekend.

That boo-boo may not be enough to get you to cancel your subscription to this prestigious and often biased paper, but it helps reassure us that nobody or no organization is perfect.

“Laetare” means “rejoice” and brings to mind the theme of this week’s liturgy — the joy we express and feel because of our faith in Jesus Christ, and his coming. The question is, however: Do you personally feel joy about your Catholic faith?

Don’t just nod your head and say, “Of course!” Or, less positively, “Are you kidding?” Think about it for a moment or two.

Faith in Jesus means we buy into his life and message, lock, stock and barrel. Do you? When Jesus speaks, do you say, “Right on, Lord; sock it to ’em” or rather, “Sock it to me.” Or is your response: “I’ll get back to you on that.” And then you go off and get on about your daily business with nary a further thought about his offerings.

To really experience joy in the Lord, we have to surrender to Jesus. Surrender doesn’t come easy to most of us.

For instance, in today’s Gospel passage, because of his message calling for change of heart, people direct the obvious question to John the Baptist: “What then should we do?” He goes on to offer sage advice to the crowds, the tax-collectors and the soldiers. The text never tells us what the various parties did with that excellent advice.

We probably, like those crowds, are expert in compartmentalizing our faith; it doesn’t always flow over into our daily lives. And that may well be why this joy the Scriptures speak about is so elusive.

Moreover, there is no joy because there may be no conformity between what we say we believe and what we actually act on as believers; we haven’t given it all up to Jesus.

In his letter to the Philippians, Paul, after he counsels the people to let their kindness be known to all, says, “Have no anxiety at all … then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” Paul makes it sound so simple, but, admittedly, it’s hard to be joyful in a world that features so much suffering and despair.

So, at Advent time, we have a call to be joyful from the Scriptures, and opposed is the worldly call to give in to a reality that offers anything but joyful possibilities. Which shall it be? For us followers of Jesus, the choice should be a no-brainer.

By the way, according to the usual suspects, the world should be coming to an end this week. The Aztec calendar is apparently running out on the 21st or thereabouts, and then, who knows?

Somehow, I suspect my “Perspectives” for next week will still be printed. We’ll see.

O’Malley is a faculty member of the University of St. Mary of the Lake, a former vicar for priests and pastor emeritus of St. Celestine Parish.