RENEW International - Home   RENEW International - Blog   RENEW International - Shop   RENEW International - Donate   RENEW International - Request Info
Search

 
 

eleanor_roosevelt_mccallsWhen I was a boy, my mother subscribed to six women’s magazines.
 
I was a compulsive reader even then, so I leafed through “McCall’s” and “Ladies Home Journal” and so forth as soon as they arrived.
 
One thing that caught my eye was a column written by Eleanor Roosevelt, who by then was the widow of
Franklin Roosevelt.
 
Mrs. Roosevelt wrote more than one column, but the one I read faithfully was a question-and-answer feature called “If You Ask Me.”
 
Besides the fact that I was just a nerdy kid, I was fascinated by the give-and-take of that format.
 
Recently, I discovered that all of those columns, along with other work by Mrs. Roosevelt, has been archived by The George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and I have started to re-read them.
 
Actually, I started with the first column, which appeared sixteen months before I was born, so I’m reading some for the first time.
 
In the column that appeared in June 1941, one of the questions submitted by readers was whether Mrs. Roosevelt thought religion should become a more dominant part of daily life.
 
Mrs. Roosevelt wrote that it should, adding “but there is only one way … and that is by bringing it out of the church and into the lives led by religious people.’’
 
Mrs. Roosevelt, who was a church-going Episcopalian, made this same point on other occasions, and she also wrote that for Christians, the model for living out religious faith was the radical lifestyle of Jesus.
 
And she took her own advice in the sense that she was—to use a 21st century expression—“out there,” seeing first-hand what was going on in the country and beyond.
 
Even in the 1940s, Eleanor Roosevelt had the air of a fuddy-duddy about her; in fact, she often mentioned that because she was so old-fashioned in her manners as a child she was nicknamed “Granny.’’
 
But she was a pioneer in campaigning against racism and other forms of prejudice and working on behalf of women and labor and youth—and that made her very unpopular among some Americans, and she was—and still is—a controversial figure for other reasons.
 
That’s a complicated story, but what interests me at the moment is that statement Mrs. Roosevelt made seventy-five years ago.
 
One the one hand, it might seem self-evident that religion practiced in church is of little value if it isn’t practiced outside of church.
 
But in the second decade of the twenty-first century, when Pope Francis says virtually the same thing—making of himself a living example—the idea is treated in many quarters as though it were a new revelation.
 
In fact, though, Jesus made the same point in the first century in his criticism of pious people who wouldn’t help a stranger in need.
 
There is a lot of angst over the declining numbers of people who attend Mass regularly, or at all.
 
But the pope and other Catholic leaders argue that folks will be attracted to the Church, not by seeing other folks going there but by seeing and hearing those who do go to church also witnessing to their faith by what they say and what they do at home, at school, at work, and in the community—including, as Francis likes to remind us—those parts of the community that are farthest from the Church.
 
It’s such a simple concept, but a concept that, in our own time, Pope Francis sees as an ideal yet to be achieved.
 
This post first appeared in The Catholic Spirit, Diocsese of Metuchen.
 
Charles Paolino is a member of the RENEW staff and a permanent Deacon in the Diocese of Metuchen.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

 
 

“As [Jesus] was walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter, and his brother Andrew, casting a net into the sea; they were fishermen. He said to them, ‘Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.’ At once they left their nets and followed him. He walked along from there and saw two other brothers, James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John. They were in a boat, with their father Zebedee, mending their nets. He called them, and immediately they left their boat and their father and followed him. He went around all of Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and curing every disease and illness among the people” (Matthew 4:18-23).
 
Because the kingdom of heaven has come near, Jesus invites some fishermen to follow him. They immediately leave behind nets, boat, and father, and follow Jesus. Just like that, Jesus has four companions in ministry.
 
Although he can be, Jesus is never a one-man show. The first executive decision he makes is to call a community into existence around the Word of God that he preaches.
 
God always calls a people and enters into a covenant with “us.” So around Jesus “we” are formed. We have to change to become part of this new people. We have to leave some things behind in order to embrace our new identity and purpose. There is perhaps something symbolic in what the four new disciples collectively leave behind: nets, boat, and father.
 
Nets capture, contain, and limit and give us a sense of control. The boat represents our ability to come and go as we please, to be independent and free. And a father may be the stories and traditions that give us our identities.
 
Nets and boats and fathers are essential to meet our needs for control and opportunity and roots. But when Jesus comes and proclaims the transforming kingdom of God, we will have to give up some of those things in order to be embraced by this new reality. Perhaps we leave nets and boats and fathers to have them given back to us again. We will still be in the family fishing business. Only what we fish for will change.
 
– What things do we have to give up and walk away from in order to approach and possess them anew? What will you do?
 
Adapted from PrayerTime: Faith-Sharing Reflections on the Sunday Gospels, available at the RENEW International store

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

 
 

“John the Baptist saw Jesus coming toward him and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. He is the one of whom I said, “A man is coming after me who ranks ahead of me because he existed before me.” I did not know him, but the reason why I came baptizing with water was that he might be made known to Israel.’ John testified further, saying, ‘I saw the Spirit come down like a dove from heaven and remain upon him. I did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, “On whomever you see the Spirit come down and remain, he is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.” Now I have seen and testified that he is the Son of God’” (John 1:29-34).
 
John proclaims, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (v. 29). These words have become enshrined in the eucharistic invitation to share in the Lord’s body and blood. But what an odd image! A Lamb of God.
 
This image recalls the servant so prominent in the Book of Isaiah who is led to the slaughter like a lamb (53:7). And it links Jesus with the lambs ritually slaughtered in preparation for the Passover meal (Exodus 12:21-27). In the Book of Revelation much is made of the Lamb who was slain (5:6) but now sits in triumph on the throne (22:1).
 
The image of Jesus as the Lamb of God must have had a powerful impact on early Christianity. A weak and passive animal is made the image of God’s victory over sin and death. This would have contrasted markedly with those who longed for a warrior king.
 
They thought we needed a superhero, and we got a Lamb! Perhaps this is how God operates. Love is vulnerable. It does not coerce. It is available and faithful. Perhaps to counter our desire for a quick and final fix, God sends a Lamb as a sign that love takes time to heal, to win over, to triumph. The paradox of a helpless Lamb who triumphs catches our attention and forces us to wonder about how God really functions on our behalf.
 
– Are you confident in the power of vulnerable love to triumph in the end? Why?
 
Adapted from PrayerTime: Faith-Sharing Reflections on the Sunday Gospels, available at the RENEW International store

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

 
 

“When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of King Herod, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.’ When King Herod heard this, he was greatly troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. Assembling all the chief priests and the scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They said to him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it has been written through the prophet…’ Then Herod called the magi secretly and ascertained from them the time of the star’s appearance. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, ‘Go and search diligently for the child. When you have found him, bring me word, that I too may go and do him homage.’ After their audience with the king they set out. And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them, until it came and stopped over the place where the child was. They were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage. Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their country by another way” (Matthew 2:1-5; 7-12).
 
Who are these magi? They are searchers. They are observers of the night sky and the forces of nature. They are not afraid to get up and follow their instincts and hunches about where the divine is calling them.
 
Most people assume that the star leads the magi directly to Bethlehem and to Jesus, but it doesn’t. The rising of the star leads them to Micah 5:1 and 2 Samuel 5:2, Scripture that speaks of Jesus’ coming. This small detail is extremely important. The Gentile magi must immerse themselves in the atmosphere of Jerusalem and the history of Israel found there, or they will never find the King of the Jews.
 
So the magi sojourn in Jerusalem where they are enlightened. The star is no longer simply an object in the night sky but the star that “shall advance from Jacob” (Numbers 24:17). Now the star is a true guide to Jesus. They pay homage and offer gifts.
 
But not everyone sees Jesus as worthy of homage and gifts. Some will see the King of the Jews who will proclaim the kingdom of God as threatening the “kingdoms” that are already here. There is no room for another kingdom, especially one calling for an end to violence and greed and one promoting the justice and reconciliation of the Torah or Law. So while the magi do homage, others plot murder.
 
This same choice lies before stargazers and Bible readers today. It is not about stars or about words on a page. It is about hearts open to the future that God wants for us, or hearts hardened around limited self-interests. The magi chose. How do we choose?
 
Adapted from PrayerTime: Faith-Sharing Reflections on the Sunday Gospels, available at the RENEW International store

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

 
 

newborn_baby“So they went in haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known the message that had been told them about this child. All who heard it were amazed by what had been told them by the shepherds. And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart” (Luke2: 16-19).
 
It is not unusual that new mothers, sometimes immediately or sometimes when they regain some strength and the opportunity to reflect a bit, will treasure and ponder the wonder of the new life brought into the world.
 
Mary hears from the shepherds their tale—a story of angels and heavenly song and prophecy. The birth of this child, they say, is good news not only for her and
Joseph but also “for all the people” (Luke 2:10). What a message to treasure and ponder!
 
The ultimate destiny and meaning of Mary’s infant child will become more clear to her. Like many mothers, she treasures this child and ponders on what
is still to come.
 
We honor Mary as the Mother of God. But in some ways her greatest “honor” is that she is the first disciple of her son. Her response to the angel Gabriel, “May it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38), is the decision of a disciple choosing to obey and follow. As disciple, she has a unique role to play.
 
She is to be the Mother of the Messiah, the Mother of Emmanuel, the Mother of God. Her “yes” sets her on the way to becoming mother. She is disciple first, then mother.
 
She treasures her choosing that has taken flesh in her son, Jesus. And she ponders what it may mean to follow and obey this same son. Perhaps we share Mary’s moment. We treasure the wonder of God’s love revealed in the birth of her son.
 
And we, too, ponder what it means to follow and be changed by such a love.
 
Adapted from PrayerTime: Faith-Sharing Reflections on the Sunday Gospels, available at the RENEW International store

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

 
 

birth-of-jesus-1150128_1280“When the angels went away from them to heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go, then, to Bethlehem to see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.’ So they went in haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known the message that had been told them about this child. All who heard it were amazed by what had been told them by the shepherds. And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as it had been told to them” (Luke 2: 15-20). (Mass at dawn)
 
Considering the nature of the events in St. Luke’s narrative of the birth of Jesus, we would expect from the witnesses exactly the reaction that Luke described: they were “amazed.”
 
But within the same few lines of Luke’s story there is a tantalizing counterpoint to that amazement: “Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” Do we, in the twenty-first century, have the same reactions to the birth of Jesus as those who were present at the time? Are we amazed, and do we reflect on these things in our hearts?
 
This is not a folk tale adorned with details calculated to charm us. This is the account of a transformative event in human history, an event in which divine life and human life intersected in a uniquely intimate way. This was God, so full of love for the creatures he made in his own likeness that he himself took on human form. This was God taking on himself the whole of the human experience, excepting sin, so that men and women would be restored to their proper relationship to God through the ministry, sacrifice, and glorification of Jesus. If we believe this, how can we not be amazed?
 
The birth of Jesus was in its immediate circumstances a very personal event—this particular child born to these particular parents under difficult economic, social, and political conditions. We can easily relate to the story of Jesus’ birth because we understand on the one hand fear and confusion, and we understand on the other hand the joy of parenthood and the irresistible attraction of a newborn child. For Joseph and Mary, the effects of these competing emotions must have been unsettling and exhausting. But Mary, as she often did, set an example for us in her reaction to the Nativity itself and the framework in which it occurred: she reflected on these things in her heart.
 
The Christmas season at times seems to be designed to prevent us from doing any such thing, but for most of us, the pressures of the holiday season are as nothing compared to what Mary confronted. And still, she reflected on these things in her heart. The birth of Jesus began the unfolding of the mystery through which each of us has been offered salvation from the consequences of sin and death. If we believe this, how can we not reflect on it at Christmas and on every day of our lives?
 
Adapted from PrayerTime: Faith-Sharing Reflections on the Sunday Gospels, available at the RENEW International store

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

 
 

adventGood and Gracious God,
you have given us a gift in the life and love of your Son.
Help us to follow your call in our lives,
granting us the grace to live by Jesus’ example
in all we say and do.
We ask this through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior.
Amen.
 
From Advent Awakenings, Year A: Trust the Lord.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

 
 

Water_WineWhen I was a member of St. Joseph’s parish in High Bridge, New Jersey, the church was so crowded at one Easter Sunday Mass that the pastor invited standees to take seats in the sanctuary.
 
The only people to accept the invitation were a woman and her teenaged daughter.
 
After Mass, the woman remarked to me that she was delighted, because she had never witnessed the liturgy at such close range, and she noticed many details that had escaped her up to then.
 
Among those details was part of the ritual in which the celebrant or the deacon pours a little water into the chalice of wine before the consecration.
The woman noticed that the deacon, in this case, said something inaudible while he was pouring that drop of water.
 
She was referring to this prayer: “By the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity.”
 
I don’t know why we are instructed in the Roman Missal to say that prayer quietly, but the prayer and the ritual itself refer to a fact that is central to our faith, a fact that we celebrate in an especially solemn way on Christmas.
 
On that holy day, we celebrate the moment in time in which God, while retaining his divine nature, took on human nature in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, so that Jesus was fully God and fully human.
 
In the symbolism of the ritual we’re discussing, the wine represents the divine nature of Jesus, and the water represents his human nature; once the wine and water have mingled they cannot be separated, and so it is with the divine and human natures of Christ.
 
And there’s more.
 
While we acknowledge in that prayer that Christ is both divine and human, we also pray that we who are human may share in his divinity.
 
That idea can be found in Scripture—for example in the Second Letter of Peter in which the author writes that Jesus “has bestowed on us the precious and very great promises, so that through them you may come to share in the divine nature, after escaping from the corruption that is in the world because of evil desire’’ (2 Peter 1:4).
 
The Catechism of the Catholic Church is quite explicit about this, quoting St. Thomas Aquinas, who wrote: “The only-begotten Son of God, wanting to make us sharers in his divinity, assumed our nature, so that he, made man, might make men gods’’ (Catechism, paragraph 460).
 
Through the grace of the sacraments, through Scripture, through prayer, and through acts of justice and mercy, we spend our lives being formed more and more in the image of the one who was born in our image, to the delight of angels and shepherds.
 
As the prayer over the wine and water says, God “humbled himself” when he assumed human form, but he also beckoned us sons and daughters to realize the full potential of our humanity, to become fit company for him.
 
We achieve the full transformation when God welcomes us into communion with him for eternity—into heaven, as we say—a destiny that, because of original sin, was unimaginable before the Nativity.
 
We hear it each year in the carol: “Long lay the world in sin and error pining, then he appeared, and the soul felt its worth.”
 
This post first appeared in The Catholic Spirit, Diocsese of Metuchen.
 
Charles Paolino is a member of the RENEW staff and a permanent Deacon in the Diocese of Metuchen.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

 
 

little-girl-singing-in-churchPope Francis titled his landmark document on evangelization The Joy of the Gospel. It is a beautiful title for a beautiful work in which the Holy Father reminds us how we should truly live as Catholics. It pushes us to consider the question, do we actually live that joy?
 
On a recent weekend, I went to Mass with my brother and niece. There was a little girl, about three years old, in the pew in front of us. Whenever we would sing, or at the end of communal prayers, she would let out a shout of “YAY!” that reverberated through the church. Her parents tried to shush her, but every so often, she would shout again and giggle to herself, making everyone around her smile.
 
As we walked out to the car after Mass, my brother commented that there were far worse sounds a small child could make during Mass, to which I responded, “If only we could all be that happy to go to church!”
 
It made me stop and think. Are we that happy to go to church? Do we come to the altar with hearts full of joy, or do we see our Sunday obligation as just that, an obligation? Have we forgotten the power of the ritual of the Mass, only seeing the routine and the rote?
 
Every week, we witness a miracle. We see simple bread and wine transformed into our Savior. We receive the very body and blood of Jesus in the miracle of the Eucharist, and this should be a cause for great rejoicing.
 
We hear the very word of God proclaimed to the community of believers. How do we allow ourselves to forget the wonder and joy this should evoke?
 
We cannot come to the Mass with the cynical eyes of the modern world. We must come to the Mass with the joy-filled eyes of a people who know they are loved unconditionally by their God—a people who know that “God so loved the world he gave his only begotten Son.”
 
This is our challenge. The next time you walk through the doors of a church, try to hear in your mind, and more importantly feel in your heart, the words of the psalmist: “I rejoiced when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord.’”
 
Jennifer Bober is a RENEW Marketing Associate with both non-profit and publishing experience. In addition to her marketing career, she is a professional liturgical musician.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

 
 

“This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about. When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found with child through the Holy Spirit.
Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly. Such was his intention when, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her.
She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.’ All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means ‘God is with us.’ When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home” (Matthew 1:18-24).
 
In many ways in this narrative, Joseph assumes a role on our behalf. He was a righteous man, pious and observant. He loved his fiancée and would not disgrace her, even when he had been humiliated by the turn of events. In a dream, he was asked to trust and to believe in the improbable.
 
We don’t actually see Joseph’s reaction, but accounts of the birth narrative often present Joseph as angry, bewildered, and hurt. His pride had been wounded and his role as a husband and father had been usurped. In this light, the action he ultimately takes demonstrates a staggering trust. He did as the dream-angel commanded and took Mary home as his wife. Without the dream, Joseph would have divorced Mary out of shame for the sin of adultery he thought she bore in her womb. And yet this very child, the angel explained, would be the vehicle for forgiving sin among all of Joseph’s people.
 
The angel does not predict a revolution in flames. The angel makes prophecy personal—Joseph is asked to amend his righteousness with an action so illogical and difficult that he was no longer sure who he was. And yet, like John, Joseph is a crucial stone in paving the way, a man who shoulders a personal burden to help his people prepare. Joseph is our representative of trust. Of course Mary would have given birth after a divorce. Joseph plays a vital role in keeping with the Advent focus on believing or accepting what is painful and difficult while having faith in a promise of mercy and redemption.
 
– How have you been asked by God to go against your initial instincts?
 
Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

 
 

adventAlmighty God,
sometimes we find ourselves so confused
by many different messages and messengers
that it is hard for us to sort out the truth.
Through the help of your Holy Spirit
give us the wisdom to listen well
as we prepare to make decisions in our lives.
Amen.
 
From Advent Awakenings, Year A: Trust the Lord.

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

 
 

MaryToday we celebrate the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The mystery of the Immaculate Conception refers to the fact that Mary was conceived without original sin.
 
Human beings have inherited the burden of the first sin against God, which is dramatized in the story of Adam and Eve in the Book of Genesis. We are cleansed of that burden by the sacrament of baptism, through which we receive the grace Jesus won for us with his death, resurrection, and ascension into heaven.
 
Mary, who was to be the mother of God, was spared the stain of that sin.
 
A feast based on this mystery was celebrated in Syria as early as the fifth century. The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception was proclaimed by Pope Alexander VII in 1661, and it was defined as a dogmatic teaching of the church by Pope Pius IX in 1854.
 
Adapted from RENEW International’s At Prayer With Mary, available in our online bookstore.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

 
 

skyrocketsDuring one of our visits to my family in Italy, my cousin asked on a Thursday morning if we wanted to attend Mass that evening.
 
My relatives live in a tiny village that hasn’t changed appreciably since my grandparents left it more than a hundred years ago; in fact, the house the Paolinos live in hasn’t changed appreciably since it was built in the late 1680s.
 
In such a place, “events” that extend beyond eating meals, gathering eggs, and milking the goat, are rare.
 
So we would have accepted my cousin’s invitation almost regardless of what he was inviting us to.
 
The Mass—which turned out to be a devotion to St. Nicholas of Bari followed by the liturgy—was to begin at 6.
 
The parish church, as are many in Italy, is dedicated to St. Nicholas, a fourth-century Greek prelate whose reputation gave rise to the legend of Santa Claus.
 
After eating an early supper, we were sitting around in the house at about 5:30 when we were jolted by a series of loud explosions coming from nearby.
 
That is, my wife and I were jolted; my family hardly reacted except by laughing at us.
 
The source of the noise, it turned out, was a young man crouching on a hill above the village church and launching skyrockets—the local means of calling people to prayer.
 
This seemed incongruous to me at first; I had never associated fireworks with the celebration of the Eucharist. I even wondered if it was appropriate.
 
But as I reflected on it, it occurred to me that the spirit expressed by launching those skyrockets, rather than being out of place, was something to aspire to.
 
The skyrockets, which continued even as we were walking the short distance from my family’s house to the church, seemed to say, “Listen up! Something amazing is about to happen. Don’t miss it!”
 
Given the sparse population in the mountains where this event took place, and given the obscure location of the village, the turnout for a weeknight of devotions and Mass was respectable—including a youngish folk group that provided the music.
 
What did these villagers experience that was so amazing that it was announced by skyrockets? That people—regardless of what might distinguish them one from another—were about to gather as one family and, together, express their gratitude to God for his grace, express their good will toward each other and toward the world at large, and then become one with each other, with the whole Church, and, in a sense, with all of Creation, by sharing the body and blood of Christ in the bread and wine of the Eucharist.
 
December 6 is the feast day of St. Nicholas of Bari.
 
This post also appeared in The Catholic Spirit, Diocsese of Metuchen.
 
Charles Paolino is a member of the RENEW staff and a permanent Deacon in the Diocese of Metuchen.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

 
 

“When John the Baptist heard in prison of the works of the Christ, he sent his disciples to Jesus with this question, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?’ Jesus said to them in reply,
‘Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed,
the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them. And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.’
As they were going off, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John, ‘What did you go out to the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind? Then what did you go out to see? Someone dressed in fine clothing? Those who wear fine clothing are in royal palaces. Then why did you go out? To see a prophet?
Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written: Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you; he will prepare your way before you. Amen, I say to you, among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he’” (Matthew 11:2-11).
 
Prophecy during Advent is an illustration of confounded expectations. Jesus has been preaching about how his followers will not be content or successful, but, rather will endure endless persecution in his name. John took a message of repentance to the king and found himself in chains. That might have been John’s first clue that Jesus was telling the truth, but still, where was the purifying fire, the revolution?
There were many messianic figures in those times, stirring the people’s sense of prophecy and superstition. One can understand John’s need to know, as he sat in jail, if Jesus was for real or just another charismatic preacher.
 
Consider our own expectations and the gospel pattern of confounding them. At this point, each of the answers suggested in the Advent gospel readings seem a little dubious, a little unlikely, yet inevitable. As twentieth century author Flannery O’Connor said, endings, like answers, work that way—we could never have imagined them, but when they come, they feel absolutely true and fitting.
 
So in today’s gospel reading we see Jesus neatly side-stepping the question of who he is. First, Jesus tells John’s followers to simply report what they have seen: not revolution, not fire, but healing and good news among the poor. Then, he calls John God’s messenger, the one who prepares the way. Yet John has always been a frightening prophet, preparing us for the worst—for being incomplete and unworthy when the Messiah comes. Jesus does not contradict John’s prophecies. The winnowing rod, the burning fire, the avenging Jewish King are still possibilities. By suggesting that the two visions are compatible, he again confounds expectations.
 
The answers we have been seeking come as a complete surprise, not so much in the “what” but in the fact that the results are actually there for those with the eyes of faith to see, and once realized, they seem inevitable. Jesus is telling John he should trust himself. He who has ears, Jesus will soon say, let him hear.
 
– What is Jesus asking his followers to rethink about whom to trust and follow?
 
Adapted from Word on the Go, a downloadable resource from RENEW International.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

 
 

adventLoving God and Father,
You sent the messenger John
with words to move us, and shake us.
Let us be attentive to the Baptist’s call
to prepare for the coming
of the One who is more powerful than he.
Amen.
 
From Advent Awakenings, Year A: Trust the Lord.

Tags: , , , , , ,

 
Home / Request Information / Site Map / Contact Us / Shop Online
Why Catholic? / ¿Por qué ser católico? / ARISE Together in Christ / Longing for the Holy
Campus RENEW / Theology on Tap / RENEW Worldwide