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God, Father of us all,
your servant John the Baptist
proclaimed you in the wilderness.
May we listen to that call and hear you as well
in those who call to us now.
Make us more attentive to your Word:
forgive us for when we have not listened to you,
and help us to prepare for your coming
We ask this in the name of Jesus,
who was proclaimed by John.
Amen.

 
From Advent Awakenings, Year C: Say Yes to God, published by RENEW International

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A reading from the Book of the Prophet Baruch
(Chapter 5:1-9)
 
The Hebrew word baruch means “blessing.” The man Baruch was said to have been a scribe of the prophet Jeremiah, but this book was written much later than the time of Jeremiah, around the era of the Maccabees when the Jews were being persecuted by the Greeks:
 
“Jerusalem, take off your robe of misery and mourning; put on the splendor of glory from God forever. … For God will show all the earth your splendor: you will be named by God forever the peace of justice, the glory of God’s worship.”
 
This is similar to messages of hope attributed in Scripture to a series of prophets who lived over many centuries. Throughout their history, the people of Israel were subjugated by other countries and rulers, and yet, they never gave up hope. One of the roles of the prophets was to give the people hope but also to remind them of God’s great love and mercy in the midst of their suffering. It is a powerful message for us today in the midst of the crises we face as a country and as a people of faith.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 126:1-2, 2-3, 4-5, 6)
 
“The Lord has done great things for us, we are filled with joy.” Think for a moment of all the great things that the Lord has done for you. Allow yourself to rejoice in God’s goodness to you and experience the joy, even—no, especially—in your times of sorrow, disappointment, or suffering.
 
A reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Philippians
(Chapters 1:4-6, 8-11)
 
Paul traveled all over what is now Israel, Syria, Lebanon, western Turkey, Greece, and eventually Italy, but he never forgot the people he loved so much in the city of Philippi: “I pray always with joy in my every prayer for all of you, because of your partnership for the gospel from the first day until now. … God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus. And this is my prayer: that your love may increase ever more and more in knowledge.”
 
Paul had a hard, often torturous life preaching the Gospel of Jesus. Without Paul, Christianity would not have flourished as it did in the decades after Jesus died. He was a dedicated, passionate man who was sometimes wrong but who always followed the man he had never met, Jesus Christ. Think of him sometimes as you travel in your car or on a train or plane, none of which had been invented in his time. His road was hot and dusty, often dangerous and always tiring, but he found peace and love among the many who heard and followed him, including his beloved Philippians.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke
(Chapter 3:1-6)
 
Luke introduces us to John the Baptist by mentioning many of the leading political and religious leaders of the day. But then Luke tells us that “The word of God came to John, the son of Zechariah in the desert. John went throughout the whole region of the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sin.” Luke then has a long passage from the prophecy of Isaiah that ends with these words: “and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”
 
The Jewish people were familiar with a form of baptism that was for the forgiveness of sins. That is what John preached. Jesus brought a different form of baptism—the sacrament that we know today that brings us the everlasting presence of the Holy Spirit. Jesus referred to John as the greatest of all the prophets, and John led many to Jesus. We always think of him as the one who prepared the way of the Lord.
 
Most of us were baptized as infants, and we may not have been told about the true meaning of baptism when we grew up. It is no less a gift than the presence of the Holy Spirit. I say it again here because it is life-changing. We are never alone. God’s Spirit is always with us. How often do you think about your life partner, and pray to the Holy Spirit? It could be a life-changer.
 
Excerpts from the English translation of the Lectionary for Mass © 1969, 1981, 1997, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation (ICEL). All rights reserved.
 
Bill Ayres was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. He has been a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years and has two weekly Sunday-night shows on WPLJ, 95.5 FM in New York. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.

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God of our journeys,
as we begin this season of Advent,
calm our hearts and minds
that we may focus
on what is truly important.
We ask this through Christ, Our Lord.
Amen.
 
From Advent Awakenings, Year C: Say Yes to God, published by RENEW International

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A reading from the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah
(Chapter 33:14-16)
 
This is a prophecy by Jeremiah for the Jewish people who had suffered from the long exile in Babylon. “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. In those days Judah shall be safe, and Jerusalem shall be secure.”
 
The Church teaches that Jesus was the person that Jeremiah foretold. He was the Messiah, but—much more than that—he was the Son of God, finally coming, after all those generations, to save his people. In the early days of the Christian era, many believed, but many did not. That is true today. Many who were brought up as followers of Jesus have rejected or abandoned him. Just as God did not blame the people who rejected him 2,000 years ago, we should not reject those of our families and friends who have drifted away now. Our God is a God of mercy and forgiveness.
 
Responsorial Psalm
(Psalm 25:4-5, 8-9, 10, 14)
 
“To you O Lord, I lift my soul.” Do you at whatever time and place ever “lift your soul” to God? It does not have to be a formal prayer. It can simply be an awareness of God’s loving presence.
 
A reading from St. Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians
(Chapters 3:12-4:2)
 
At this point in his life, Paul believed that Jesus would be coming again soon: “Brothers and sisters: may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we have for you, so as to strengthen your hearts, to be blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his holy ones.”
 
The early Christians were always in danger of persecution by the Romans and expulsion from their synagogues as heretics by their fellow Jews. So Paul is trying to encourage them to hold on because Jesus is coming back soon. Of course, Jesus did not come back in Paul’s lifetime, and eventually Paul would accept that. But for many years many Christians believed it. Imagine yourself as a semi-literate peasant two thousand years ago, placing all your faith in something that would not happen in your lifetime. How would you have continued to believe? Yet, most did believe, and many gave their lives for their beliefs. They are the many unremembered heroes among our spiritual ancestors.
 
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke
(Chapter 21:25-28, 34-36)
 
If you wonder why so many people believed that Jesus was coming back soon, read this: “Jesus said to his disciples: “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on earth nations will be in dismay, perplexed by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will die of fright in anticipation of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of heaven will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. But when these signs begin to happen, stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand.”
 
This is what is called apocalyptic language—language that had been used for centuries before Christ to depict the end of the world. Jesus had heard this language, and here he is giving it a far different meaning. Instead of stressing terror, Jesus is saying that this will be the time of redemption, something to celebrate. He did not say it was coming soon, and yet that is how Paul and many in the early Church understood it. Twenty centuries later, Jesus has not yet returned, and the world has not been destroyed despite all the devastation we humans have brought to it. And still we have faith that he will come to reclaim the just who have believed in him and lived by his word.
 
Excerpts from the English translation of the Lectionary for Mass © 1969, 1981, 1997, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation (ICEL). All rights reserved.
 
Bill Ayres was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. He has been a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years and has two weekly Sunday-night shows on WPLJ, 95.5 FM in New York. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.

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John Adams, one of the great patriots of the American Revolution and one of the architects of our government, led a complex religious life.
 
He was a practicing Protestant Christian, born a Congregationalist, but his religious views evolved over time until, at last, he became a Unitarian, meaning that he did not believe in the divinity of Jesus, although he did regard Jesus as the Savior.
 
Adams, the first vice-president and second president of the United States, was a regular churchgoer and an advocate of public worship. In the course of his career, he even attended Catholic Masses in far-flung places such as Philadelphia, Brussels, and Corunna, Spain, although he was generally critical of the Catholic Church.
 
His accounts of his experiences at Mass, preserved in his letters to his redoubtable wife, Abigail, sent a mixed message.
 
Adams seemed attracted to some of the external aspects of Catholic worship—for example, the vestments and tapestries and the music.
 
On one occasion, he described the homily as a “good, short, moral Essay upon the Duty of Parents to their Children, founded in justice and Charity, to take care of their Interests temporal and spiritual.”
 
However, he was repulsed by much of the ritual and personal piety—Latin prayer, rosaries, genuflections—he witnessed in Catholic Churches.
 
Ever the smart aleck, he summed up his observations in one church by writing, “Here is everything which can lay hold of the eye, ear, and imagination. Everything which can charm and bewitch the simple and the ignorant. I wonder how Luther ever broke the spell.”
 
What caught my attention in particular in one of Adams’ letters was his description of Catholic worshipers “bowing to the name of Jesus wherever they hear it.”
 
This is a practice that was instilled in me when I was a child, about 130 years after Adams had passed from the scene.
 
My contemporaries and I were taught that the name of Jesus was holy and that we were to slightly incline our heads when we pronounced it or heard it. That practice was so deeply ingrained in me that I still do it, almost as a reflex.
 
This little devotion is not the result of being simple and ignorant. It is the result always being conscious of who Jesus is—the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, God among us.
 
This devotion that seemed superstitious to Adams and that might seem quaint now, strikes me as more appropriate than ever, considering how casually the name and image of Jesus is used in our culture.
 
The Jewish people famously consider the name of God too holy to speak or write; that is a healthy attitude for people who value their covenant relationship with the Father who has made them his own.
 
We Christians have a new covenant relationship with God that is founded on our belief that Jesus is who he says he is.
 
And if Jesus is who he says he is, then, as Paul wrote to the Philippians, “at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
 
This post was initially published in The Catholic Spirit, the newspaper of the Diocese of Metuchen. Charles Paolino is a permanent deacon of that diocese.

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