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Pastor's Letter 20191215 - 15 December 2019 - Joyful In Hope

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15 December 2019

Third Sunday of Advent—“Gaudete” Sunday

A Message from Father † Michael


Today’s Theme:  “Joyful in Hope”

Scripture Note

“Rejoice! The Lord is nigh!” (Phillipians 4:4- 5.)  As Christmas draws near, we are reminded of the joy that should be in our hearts at all that the birth of our Savior means for us. During this coming week we recall the Gospel accounts of the Annunciation, and the Visitation, mysteries that are entirely “joyful!”

Paul bases Christian joy on the assurance of salvation brought to us by Jesus Christ. He desires it to be so firmly established in the soul that no reason of human anxiety or sadness can ever overcome it, since the great peace of God must forevermore predominate over every other feeling. Yet this coming of our Lord is not His birth at Bethlehem, but His Second Coming. The great joy of Christians is to see the day when the Lord will come again in His glory to lead them into His kingdom. The often-repeated veni,” (L., come,) of Advent is an echo not only of the prophets but also of the conclusion of the Apocalypse of John (book of Revelation:) “Come, Lord Jesus!”—the final words of the New Testament.

All our Readings today have comforting words:  First, we hear Be strong—fear not!” (Isaiah 35:1-10.)  Then we are admonished to Be Patient! (James 5:7- 10.)  Thirdly, Jesus tells His cousin John, Blessed is the one who takes no offense in Me! (Mathew 11:2-11.)  Although not panaceas, these and other precepts from the collected wisdom of the ancients found in Scripture can serve us well as we face life’s challenges, and help us make prudent choices.

Keeping the Faith

John the Baptist’s situation was grim—locked away, awaiting death in a dark prison—and his faith was being sorely tested. Like him, we need reassurance and comfort. Each week, listening during the Liturgy of the Word, we can find strength and comfort, “drinking in” encouragement from Scripture.

Sometimes we encounter an unexpected storm while quite nicely sailing along in life: i.e., unemployment, serious illness; or maybe sudden loss of a loved one to suicide. Such things can shatter our faith in the “right order” of things, and even, in God. At such times, we might hear:  "Yours, Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor, for everything in heaven and earth is Yours.  Yours, Lord, is the kingdom; You are exalted as Head over all” (1 Chronicles 29:11.)

John ended up in a dungeon under a death sentence, even though he was a holy, God-fearing man. Even though we might do our best, things might go wrong for us, too, and we might feel “let down” by God. Then, we may doubt His love for us—even His very existence. At such times, we may hear:  So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10.)

Modern life has become increasingly more stressful, despite technology, social networks, and politicians’ promises. Christmas also brings added work and more stress for many, perhaps overwhelming us, bringing us to wonder if we can cope with one more responsibility.  At such times, we might hear: The Lord will guide you always; He will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail(Isaiah 58:11.)

Like it or not, we spend our lives in the “shadow of death”—sometimes severely testing our faith. At times when we have lost a loved one, and felt we were standing in darkness, we may hear Jesus’ words:  “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted”(Matthew 5:4)

Many people are diligently working to bring about lasting peace in the world. Nonetheless, everyday we are engulfed by constant stories of people suffering oppression and strife, growing weary due to lack of progress. May the peacemakers hear the words: “But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere” (James 3:17.)

We may feel numbed and powerless by some of the things happening in our world—like tragic accidents, wars, famines, genocides—and we wonder why God hasn’t intervened. We must remind ourselves of our individual free will to choose, and in the midst of our confusion we may hear: “That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong”  (2 Corinthians 12:10.)

When some parents despair, having seen their children abandon their faith in spite of having been given encouragement and good example,  this can often be the source of great pain and sadness. May these parents hear: “Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him (James 1:12)

In recent years many people have been scandalized by the behavior of some of the clergy, and formerly respected notables, sports icons and celebrities. Their grave sins against children, youth, women and marginalized people have given many reason to doubt and lose respect and confidence for our once esteemed institutions. Those whose faith has taken a severe knock may hear: For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12.)

Alcoholism and drug dependence is rampant among the populations of our world, causing misery and suffering, both to the addicts and those who love them—or live with them. In the attempt to encourage them to seek help, such people may recall: Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear” (Isaiah 59:1.)

Thousands of men and women, from all socio- economic groups, are incarcerated in our prison system—many with very little hope for their future, either on this earth, or in the hereafter. May all prisoners hear: “I love you, Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge,my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold”  (Psalm 18:1-2.)

Each of us knows of situations that cause us to be fearful and doubtful. We can’t stop ourselves from feeling afraid. But we must not allow our fears to cripple us. Courage is not “never feeling afraid;” it is feeling afraid and going on in spite of it.

Dying in Darkness

John the Baptist ushered in a new Age of Jesus.  The last and greatest in a long line of prophets who prepared the people for the advent of the Christ, He was selfless and courageous, keeping alive the hopes of people during the long night of expectation. For his recalcitrant behavior in the age of Herod, he died in darkness.  

 Similarly, fifteen centuries later, the great Florence astronomer, Galileo (b. 1564,) reminds us of John the Baptist.  Using the empirical tools of his day, he confirmed what Copernicus had said, namely that it is the earth that orbits the sun, and not vice versa.  His discoveries greatly enlarged our understanding and knowledge of the universe, yet he spent his last years in darkness. Challenging the prevailing Church doctrine of the day, the Roman Inquisition censured him, to a lifetime house arrest, where wrote (in 1615,):

“Alas, poor Galileo, your devoted servant has been, for a month, totally and incurably blind, so that this heaven, this earth, this universe, which by my observations and demonstrations, I have enlarged a thousand fold beyond their previous limits, are not shriveled for me into such a narrow compass as is filled my my own bodily sensations.”  

 Advent reminds us that whenever we feel we are plunged into darkness, we must remember that faith can be a fragile thing.  It must be nourished with diligent care and frequent meditation.  And we mustn’t be surprised when doubts arise within us.  Surely God understands our meager humanity!  

 Our supreme Creator endowed each of us with an indomitable Spirit, from Whom we can draw strength of character and wisdom, if only we center ourselves and listen for the voice of inspiration. Jesus has taught us that faith in Him and His teachings are all we need to weather any adversity.  And twice blessed are we if we, like Him, can show forth our faith in deedsof love and mercy.   Then people will encounter Jesus—in us!

May God Richly Bless You!

“Therefore, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, put on heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” (Colossians 3:12)

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Edited by Father Michael
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