December 23, 2018
Fr. Joseph Jacobi
All three readings for this 4th and final Sunday of Advent speak about how God works in unexpected ways. These Scriptures reveal a God who can and does work in surprising ways never dreamed of before.
There had been a long tradition of animal sacrifice in Israel’s covenant with God, sacrifices repeated over and over again for the forgiveness of sin. But the 2nd reading from Hebrews reveals that God will be doing something new through the gift of His Son’s body, a single sacrifice. Who would have thought that God would tire of sacrifices in the temple or make the human body his temple?
Then we discover that Jerusalem will not be the birthplace of the savior, that he will be born in a little, out-of-the way place called Bethlehem. What a surprise this must have been to the people of Israel, who considered Jerusalem, the location of the temple and the capital city, to be the logical place for such an important birth.
Then there is this encounter between Mary and Elizabeth, where it is revealed that God is going to make a new covenant with His people, but not with men as he has done in the past, but through a young woman. No one in that world, which was a “man’s world”, could ever have expected this.
In all these ways we discover a God who approaches us in unexpected and surprising ways.
So, this encounter between Mary and Elizabeth is much more than two women sharing the joy of new life blossoming in their wombs. Mary’s visit to Elizabeth is much more than two unexpectedly expectant mothers rejoicing in the gift of new life. This is a grace-filled story of God visiting his people. Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit because the bringer of the Spirit blooms within Mary’s womb. Elizabeth blesses Mary and praises God for what God is doing in Mary’s life because the Son of God dwells within Mary—God is visiting Elizabeth and Zechariah’s home. Even the child growing within Elizabeth’s barren womb recognizes the presence of God and leaps for joy within her womb, pointing out the Savior as he comes, as John will do later in his adult life.
This Gospel passage of the Visitation is about God who visits His People. It is about God who embraces the lifeless and brings them new life. the God who comes to the hopeless and fills them with hope. It is about a God of surprises, who surprises those who have given up. It is about a God who does what we cannot imagine, choosing to leave heaven and divine privileges behind, the God of the universe confined to the tiny space of a woman’s womb, dependent upon His creation for life itself.
No wonder there is so much joy in the home of Zechariah and Elizabeth. God is visiting their home, the God who is the reason for joy and laughter and song. Immediately after this encounter with Elizabeth, Mary will break forth into song, s inging her praises of the God who has visited her & done great things for her.
Elizabeth is the patron saint of Advent because she teaches us to be watchful and alert for the visit of God. Elizabeth shows us that when we wait in faith, joyful in hope, that God will visit us in unexpected ways.
Who would have thought that Mary would make the difficult trip to Elizabeth’s home? This newly pregnant teenager takes an arduous journey from Nazareth into the hill country of Judah, a 78-mile trek by donkey and on foot.
So God comes to us, like a lover climbing up into the hills to find his beloved. Like a lover who will go to the farthest ends of the earth to be with his beloved, so our God is towards us. The God who is the source of all love will not be denied, for He will “make us” turn to Him so we might see His Face gazing upon us with tenderness and delight.
God visits humanity by becoming human in Jesus so that now all human encounters have the potential of communicating something of the Divine Presence and Love. The world changed with Mary’s “YES” as God was conceived in her womb, God came to dwell with the human race, so that God could continue to visit His people through the events of ordinary, everyday life.
Elizabeth challenges us to be alert and ready and watchful for these divine visitations. She teaches us that others can bring us into contact with the Son of God and his desire for us.
As we receive the visits of family and friends during Christmas and the joy-filled days of the Christmas Season, we welcome Him coming to us through others. In the gift that other people are to us, the one who is the Greatest Gift of all visits us. In the warmth of their love for us, we experience the warmth of his love for us. In the joy we share during this time, we taste something of the infinite joy awaiting us.
He is also knocking at our door, longing to visit us, in those with whom he most closely identifies: the poor and the outcast, the suffering, the stranger and the imprisoned.
We are surprised when we find God visiting us in the least of our brothers and sisters, a group the Old Testament calls the “anawim.” But that is what God does, coming to us in seemingly insignificant events and seemingly insignificant people.
All of life is Advent, for all of life is about the coming of God into our lives, the never-ending, always-surprising visits of God. This Advent Season prepares us for more than celebrating the birth of the Son of God. These holy days are meant to prepare us for him coming in so many unexpected ways each day.
We celebrate Christmas each year because we too often forget that God wants to be with us, that God desires us, that God longs for us with a never-ending passion. God becomes human like us to be with us wherever we are, to experience experience of heartbreak and joy of being human, to taste sorrow and delight, so that we will know his loving presence with us always and in ALL WAYS!
December 16, 2018
Fr. Joseph Jacobi
The question posed to John in the desert goes right to the heart of the matter: “What should we do?” “What should we do to prepare for the coming of God?”
His reply challenges his listeners to social responsibility. Acts of justice are what John asks of the people who come for baptism. Repentance for the baptized means doing justice. Making the way for God is a matter of justice.
John speaks to people where they are. To tax collectors he speaks of the justice they can do. To soldiers he speaks of the justice they can do. In whatever walk of life, act justly in your dealings with others.
This message from the prophet of Advent challenges 21st century Americans who worship at the altar of individualism. John’s words rock our world, where individual rights have become an idol. For John the Baptist speaks of responsibilities, the responsibility we have to care for one another.
What we choose to do affects everyone else—family, neighbors, co-workers, the world. We are not free to do what we want when we want and how we want. No, we are not. There is a little four-letter word many people avoid and some even deny these days that gets in the way: DUTY. Every choice carries with it some responsibility or some duty.
What John the Baptist ultimately says to us is that we shall see the salvation of our God when people who have give, not because it is Christmas but because it is our duty. What John the Baptist ultimately says to us is that we prepare for the coming of the Savior when we stop holding on to what we have and share with others, because it is our responsibility to do so.
Give because it is Just, give because it is Right, and because it is our duty. The Justice John speaks of does not come from leftovers nor from guilt; it comes from repentance and a change in life, a change in values, and a change in focus. It is rooted in a spirituality which is free of fear and anxiety, free of selfishness and guilt. It is a spirituality alive with love and gratitude, and it is the way for us to be ready for the coming of God.
Living such a Spirit-filled life produces the fruit of kindness, a kindness which frees us from the torment of anxiety and makes room in our lives for joy to be born and flourish. The duty of love, which produces kindness, makes room in our lives for peace to take root, the peace of God which is beyond all understanding, another fruit of the Spirit.
Those who do not take this approach to life, those who do not give but take, those who hold onto not just their money and their material stuff, but who hold onto resentment and bitterness, are tortured by anxiety and bereft of peace. By holding on instead of giving, by selfishly focusing on themselves, they do not make room for the coming One who is the source of all peace and joy.
As we make room in our hearts for others, as we make room for the Lord to come to us in those who need what we have to give. We then begin to see how we welcome him in those we serve. As we share what God has given us, we welcome God’s son coming to us through them.
When we live our lives in such a way, we discover something truly remarkable. When we give what we have been given to share, we catch a glimpse of God’s reaction.
The God who has given us life and love rejoices over us with gladness. The God who has put a song of gratitude into our heart sings joyfully because of us. And renews us by His life-giving love!
December 9, 2018
Fr. Joseph Jacobi
The evangelist Luke situates the call of John the Baptist within history. So his audience might know John the Baptist was a real person with a concrete role in salvation history, Luke places the Baptist’s call to prepare the way of the Lord in relation to the leaders of government and religion at the time. There is the Roman Emperor, Tiberius Ceasar, worshipped as God, and there are his underlings who promote his power: Pilate and Herod, Philip and Lysanias. There are the high priests ruling from the temple in Jerusalem, Annas and his son-in-law Caiphas.
But Luke not only situates the call of the Baptist within the pages of history but also makes a strong point about where the Word of God is spoken and where it is received. Not in gleaming palaces or temples, not in places of power, but to a guy living in the desert, far from the center of the universe, far from the noise of the wealthy and the powerful.
The word of God, the call of God, comes to a nobody, who has no wealth nor power nor standing in his world. He alone hears what God has to say, that the Messiah is near, that the Promised One is now present, and that he, John, must prepare a people blinded by their sins to see him. That he, John, must prepare a people whose hearts have become deaf to the voice of God to hear the Living Word of God who is near.
John calls us as well to repentance so we might see the coming Son of God in our lives. He invites us to enter into the desert of silence in order to hear the Word made Flesh.
In the midst of the cacophony of Christmas preparations, the Church gifts us with Advent and the prophet of Advent, John the Baptist preaching from the desert. In the midst of the secular noise of consumerism and materialism, the Church blesses us with John the Baptist who invites us to enter into silence. He challenges us to remember that SILENCE is the LANGUAGE of GOD! In the desert there is no cell reception, no Wi-Fi, no 24 hour news cycle. In the desert, there is no constant background noise of the TV chattering all the time. In the desert there is silence, and in that silence we can more readily hear the word of God.
We can create our own “desert spaces” during the clamor of these days that we might be able to hear what God wants to say to us. We have to create our own “desert spaces” with a daily time for prayer, which includes opening up our Bibles every day and listening to what God has to say. We can do this by reading the Gospel reading for daily Mass listed in the bulletin or find the daily readings on the U.S. bishops’ website. We can listen during Advent by reading each day a chapter in the Gospel of Luke, which is the Gospel for this Liturgical Year, and the Gospel particularly for Christmas. A mother and father can help each other out by one watching the kids while the other retreats for 10-15 minutes of silence to listen to the word of God. Or for single parents and some other parents, it may mean rising early before the kids awake or entering into a “desert space” after they are asleep. Even driving too and from work can be a time to turn off the radio and podcasts and talk to the Lord as if he were riding co-pilot, for he truly is.
Many people today, particularly the younger generation, have not been taught the importance of silence in order to pay attention to what God wants to say to them. What are young people taught to do today: to scan and browse, to quickly consume digital technology and then scurry along to the next flashy thing. It’s never-ending noise, even if one uses only one’s eyes to consume.
If you scroll down a Twitter feed, the feed of messages goes on and on, endlessly. The way to survive or even thrive in an environment like this is to gobble up information and gobble up more information as it keeps coming and coming. In this information age where we are inundated by words through all sorts of non-stop media, but what is missing is discerning what is of value. To discern what is of value, we have to be nourished by a daily desert time, by silence in the presence of the Lord who comes to us through his Word, and as the Living Word.
By this practice of a daily desert time, we develop a Biblical imagination. Listening daily to the Word of God helps us welcome Him in our daily life and persevere in the race of faith. What does developing a Biblical imagination look like? It’s not about memorizing verses in the Bible but becoming familiar with the stories of how God has acted in the past so we can see how God is acting now.
Look at how the Virgin Mary’s listening is shaped and formed by sacred memory, by the way she recalls God’s actions in the past. As Mary ponders the news of the Archangel Gabriel that she will be the Mother of the Son of God, as she wrestles with how this can be, she is given a sign by Gabriel. Her kinswoman, Elizabeth, who is sterile and way beyond the age of childbearing, is in the 6th month of her pregnancy, for nothing is impossible with God.
When Mary hears this news from the Archangel Gabriel, she immediately hears “Sarah.” Mary is transported into the past and how God blessed Sarah, Abraham’s wife, with a child when Sarah was too old to bear a child.
The God who was doing the impossible way back then in Sarah’s life is even now working in Elizabeth’s life, and now this faithful God wants to do what seems impossible in Mary’s life. Like Sarah, Mary is being invited to step out in trust. To say “Yes.” Because she remembers the great things the Lord God has done in the past, she can trust that God can and will do the impossible here and now through her, if she but surrenders in trust.
When we rest in silence each day, we are able to remember the great things the Lord has done for us and surrender our lives in trust to Him and His mission for us. As we enter the desert for a short time each day, we hear more clearly how we are being called like John the Baptist to prepare the way of the Lord, so He might come to others through us.
John the Baptist, the prophet of Advent, visits us today and will do so next Sunday as well, challenging us to prepare the way for the coming of the Word made flesh!
As we are nourished by the Living Word of God at this altar, he takes our flesh, so others might experience the presence of God and the love of God in our lives.
December 8, 2018
Fr. Joseph Jacobi
Carlo Maria Martini, a deceased Italian Jesuit cardinal and former Archbishop of Milan, once described grace as knowing that “you have been loved for a very long time.” Cardinal Martini, who died in 2012, defined grace in this beautiful way: knowing that “you have been loved for a very long time.” So, take your age plus nine months and then add in eternity— that is how long you have been loved by God. Grace is knowing this everlasting love of God and living out of that love.
St. Paul states the same truth in a different way, saying that God the Father chose us in Christ Jesus before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless in his sight. From the beginning of Creation, God knew each one of us and intended us to be born. So that we are loved not so much for what we do, but for who we are, because we have been chosen in by the Father in His Son.
Pope Francis teaches that each one of us “is a mission, planned by the Father to reflect and embody…the Gospel”
Being chosen by God also means God has a plan and a purpose for our life. You matter, I matter, and so does our mission in this life. Pope Francis teaches that each one of us “is a mission, planned by the Father to reflect and embody…the Gospel” (On the Call to Holiness in Today’s World, #19 ).
Since Mary was chosen from the beginning of time to be the Mother of the Son of God, Mary’s Mission is a unique one. So much so that God prepared her to be the Mother of the Son of God by freeing her from sin and the effects of sin from the very first moment of her existence in the womb of her mother, Anne. Mary is full of grace, free to allow God who is love to take her flesh, to say a complete and full Yes to God’s plan to live in her womb and be born into the world through her.
The archangel Gabriel’s greeting is our greeting as well to Mary on this great Solemnity of her Immaculate Conception: “Hail Mary, full of grace.” For this humble virgin from the backwoods town of Nazareth was indeed full of grace. To be full of grace is to be filled with life and love and light. To be full of grace is to live out the marks of holiness described by St. Paul VI in his great encyclical, “Evangelization in the Modern World.” This saintly pope said: “The world calls for and expects from us simplicity of life, the spirit of prayer, charity towards all, especially towards the lowly and the poor, obedience and humility, detachment and self-sacrifice.”
To be full of grace is to yearn for peace in the world, to do acts of kindness every day, to have an inclusive heart, to be able to laugh and cry, to feel deeply the sorrows and joys of the world. To be full of grace is to accept what God gives and to give what God takes, a lesson that St. Teresa of Calcutta taught her sisters and the world.
But you and I are not full of grace. Something blocks us from completely embracing the mystery of God’s love and mercy in Jesus. Call it pride, call it ignorance, call it fear, something holds us back from uttering the fully obedient “YES” that Mary proclaimed the Annunciation.
From the beginning, our first parents chose not to believe in God’s love for them. Instead of saying “YES” in obedience to all that God offered them, they disobeyed, failing to trust in God’s goodness, trusting only in themselves and their desire to be God. Thus sin and the affects of sin entered the world. Instead of standing erect and raising their heads to bask in the light of God’s love, our first parents hid in their shame and passed the blame.
We, too, still wrestle with sin and the affects of sin in our lives, but by Mary’s “YES” which reversed the “NO” of our first parents, we have been given a Savior who frees us from the obstacles in our lives which prevent us from living out of the love of God for us. So, one of the cries of Advent is, “Come O Lord and set us free.” Set us free from the sin which binds us, the fear which enslaves us, heal us of our blindness.
When we embrace the truth which Mary knew, that we have been loved for a very long time, our lives are transformed. Knowing how much we are loved by God sets us free to give love away.
In the giving away of God’s love, more space is created for a new influx of divine grace.
It is this rhythm that defines the life of discipleship. It is this rhythm of receiving and sharing God’s love that Mary, the 1st disciple, teaches us.