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RELIGION LITURGY AND LIFE

Archive for the month “December, 2015”

4th SUNDAY OF ADVENT

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This weekend the Holy year of Mercy is underway throughout the world and we light the third purple candle on the Advent wreath.  Last Sunday we opened the doors of mercy in our diocesan centers of mercy and opening the door means much more than just simply opening a door. We usually open a door to let someone in of course we also close the door to keep people out as well. In the sense of this Holy Year opening the door means that we open ourselves up to let the grace and mercy of the Father into our hearts and minds. I think that one of the ways we might show mercy to others these days is in our treatment of the refugees from other countries as they come to live in our communities in the days ahead.

The final Sunday of Advent draws us closer to the celebration of the Christmas mysteries. Christmas is almost upon us: yet are we ready in the true sense of the word remembering that Jesus is the reason for the season? Christmas we are told is a time for so many things  yet for many of us it is a time of stress and pressure with all the extra work to sort out every­thing that needs to be done.  For many it is a time when we are fearful that the children won’t be disappointed or that there won’t be tension in relationships or there won’t be a breakdown in the ceasefire with the in-laws.  And on top of all this there is a feeling of guilt for feeling like this when we should be happier that we are. Now in the midst of the preparations we meet Mary and her cousin Elisabeth in our Gospel reading for this weekend. Mary, who herself had been prepared for the coming of the Messiah. She has received the angel’s greeting, and his strange news, and has accepted her role in God’s plan.

Now she hurries to her kinswoman, Elizabeth, who herself bears John the Baptist in her womb. John, alerts us to the presence of the Lord, as he leaps for joy in his mother’s womb. His joy is that God has kept his promise, and is with his people.  That two women were chosen to play such a role in the story of salvation is remarkable, as women were often marginalized in the society of their time. In all of these events we see the great mission that Mary undertook as a privileged instrument in the hands of God. Mary is not only the mother of the source of grace; she is the very model of what a Christian heart should look like. We look to Mary to see our fullest Christian dig­nity. In Lumen Gentium 68, Vatican II describes our contem­plation of Mary as an act of entering our own deepest mystery, catching a glimpse of what we shall he at the end of our faith journey.

Over the next few days the journey to Christmas will have many pressures for everyone especially those who are worried or afraid about so many things family and otherwise.  Mary in her calm gentle way encourages us to trust in God’s word and to believe in God’s promises as she did. If we believe and have trust in God as Mary did then all the problems that might arise will assume their proper perspective and we will get through them and come out the other side wondering why we got so worried in the first place.

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3rd SUNDAY OF ADVENT

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THE FIRST SUNDAY IN THE YEAR OF MERCY

This weekend we celebrate Gaudete Sunday which translates as rejoicing Sunday and we light the pink candle on the Advent Wreath. During last week  the beginning of the Year of Mercy took place on the feast of the Immaculate Conception on Tuesday. Pope Francis opened the holy door into St. Peter’s basilica and at the Mass for the feast day during his homily he said:  ‘ To pass through the Holy Door means to rediscover the infinite mercy of the Father who welcomes everyone and goes out personally to encounter each of them.  It is he who seeks us!  It is he who comes to encounter us!  This will be a year in which we grow ever more convinced of God’s mercy.  How much wrong we do to God and his grace when we speak of sins being punished by his judgment before we speak of their being forgiven by his mercy (cf. Saint Augustine, De Praedestinatione Sanctorum, 12, 24)! 

But that is the truth.  We have to put mercy before judgement, and in any event God’s judgment will always be in the light of his mercy. In passing through the Holy Door, then, may we feel that we ourselves are part of this mystery of love, of tenderness.  Let us set aside all fear and dread, for these do not befit men and women who are loved.  Instead, let us experience the joy of encountering that grace which transforms all things.

In our Gospel reading we this weekend we hear John the Baptist John spoke to people in words they could grasp. Here was a man who cared nothing for comfort, money or fame, who could not be bought, and who could speak the truth without fear. John makes such a deep impression on people that word goes around that he might be the Christ. Again, that expectancy is a measure of John’s effect on people. John doesn’t claim to know who the Messiah is; all he knows is that he is not. That role is for someone else, someone greater and more powerful than John. And as we know that person was Jesus the Son of the Father who is the face of the Father’s mercy, the face of mercy that we should always contemplate.

These words might well sum up the mystery of the Christian faith. Mercy has become living and visible in Jesus of Nazareth, reaching its culmination in him. Jesus of Nazareth, by his words, his actions, and his entire person reveals the mercy of God. We need constantly to contemplate the mystery of mercy. It is a wellspring of joy, serenity, and peace. Our salvation depends on it. Mercy: the word reveals the very mystery of the Most Holy Trinity. Mercy: the ultimate and supreme act by which God comes to meet us. Mercy: the fundamental law that dwells in the heart of every person who looks sincerely into the eyes of his brothers and sisters on the path of life.

Mercy: the bridge that connects God and man, opening our hearts to the hope of being loved forever despite our sinfulness. During the Year of Mercy we will have many opportunities to celebrate the Mercy of the Father as we begin the year we recall the corporal and spiritual works of mercy:

The Corporal Works of Mercy call us to:

  • feed the hungry
  • give drink to the thirsty
  • clothe the naked
  • shelter the homeless
  • visit the sick
  • visit the imprisoned
  • bury the dead

 The Spiritual Works of Mercy call us to

  • counsel the doubtful
  • instruct the ignorant
  • admonish sinners
  • comfort the afflicted
  • forgive offenses
  • bear wrongs patiently
  • pray for the living and the dead

 

While we remember these works of mercy we also think about what we as individuals and community are supposed to be and that is merciful like the Father which is the theme for the year of mercy. There will be time for pilgrimage and prayer there will be time for conversion of heart in the tribunal of Mercy that is confession. It takes imagination to be merciful, to seek out occasions of mercy, all of the time to take the initiative, not merely await the mercy of the Father but work to bring it about through the acts of mercy listed above. I often  remember the words of Shakespeare when he said “The quality of mercy is not strained” this does not mean that we must not strain ourselves, it means that true mercy does not recognize any limit, holds nothing back, and gives all.

Our Father in heaven gave us so much in Jesus his Son he continues to give us much in our own time let us not be afraid to be people of mercy that are a reflection of the Merciful Father. So in our Joyful liturgy this weekend we have the double celebration as we rejoice at the beginning of the year of mercy and we rejoice with John the Baptist as we look forward to the coming of Jesus the face of the Fathers mercy at Christmas. Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. The Lord is near.

 

2ND SUNDAY OF ADVENT

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This weekend we light the second purple candle on the Advent Wreath and our readings are all about preparing the way for the Lord. In our readings we hear four voices encouraging people to imagine the good future that God has in store for them. The readings invite all of us to imagine the best and then act accordingly. In the first reading the prophet Baruch asks the people to change their wardrobe – to throw away the dress of sorrow and distress and wrap the cloak of God’s integrity around them. Things are going to look up, they should be dressed appropriately and have courage again in the future. So, too, the psalmist asks people to imagine a time when they will no longer be in bondage, sowing in tears, but will return full of joy carrying a harvest of good things.

In his letter to the Philippians, Paul takes a similar line. He compliments the people for helping him in his work, tells them how much he loves them, and invites them to prepare for that day “when you will reach… perfect goodness”.

Finally, John the Baptist in the Gospel story is travelling around the Jordan district announcing to anyone within earshot the great day to come when “all mankind shall see the salvation of God”. John the Baptist is one the central figures whom we meet over and over again in the Scripture texts chosen for use in the Advent liturgy. He stands at the threshold between the Old & New Testaments, a bridge linking the two. In John we see the culmination of centuries of prophecy, anticipation, and preparation.  John’s message did not die with him. The need for repentance and conversion of heart remains constant among God’s people even now. John’s words have continued to resound in Christian ears throughout the centuries. In a few days time on December the 8th we celebrate the feast of the Immaculate Conception it is also the day when we begin the Holy Year of Mercy with the opening of the Holy Door in St. Peters in Rome the theme of the year will be Merciful like the Father.

The Advent liturgy vibrates with the challenge of the Baptists cry, “Reform your lives!” May we take John’s call to heart the Holy Year which is in our midst!

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