“With Water, You CAN Catch On Fire!” – Matthew 3:1-12†


 

 

The Second Sunday of Advent

Twenty days till the Birth of Jesus Christ.
Let us all remember the “Reason for the Season.”
Please, Please, keep “CHRIST” in CHRIST-mas!!

 

 

 

 

On Tuesday, the “Dr. Oz Show” will be about Genetically Modified Foods (GMO’s)

 

Jeffrey Smith will be on the show to discuss the health dangers of genetically modified foods.  Also on the show will be Dr. Michael Hansen, a scientist from Consumers Union who has been an avid critic of GMOs for two decades, and Dr. Pamela Ronald, a pro-GMO scientist who has been proposing that organic foods include GMOs. This is a rare national coverage on this extremely important topic – that truly influences everyone.  GMOs will be discussed during the first 15 minute segment.

Show times for Missouri are below.  Please refer to your local directory for other areas:

Missouri: 

ST. LOUIS:  NBC 5 KSDK  11:00 AM
SPRINGFIELD: ABC 33 KSPR @ 3:00 PM
JOPLIN  FOX: 14 KFJX @ 5:00 PM
ST. JOSEPH: NBC 41 KSHB @ 3:00 PM
KC AREA: NBC 41 KSHB @ 3:00 PM; & IND 38 KMCI
COLUMBIA, MO  NBC 8 KOMU @ 1:00 PM and 12:00 PM

Thanks go to Gale Thackrey, who is the “Justice Ministry Coordinator” for the Franciscan Sisters of Mary in st. Louis Missouri. (www.fsmonline.org)

 

 

 

Today in Catholic History:

        
†   663 – Fourth Council of Toledo takes place.
†   749 – Death Saint John of Damascus, theologian
†   1301 – Pope Boniface VIII’s degree Ausculta fili (only nominee)
†   1443 – Birth of Pope Julius II (d. 1513)
†   1484 – Pope Innocent VIII issues the Summis desiderantes, a papal bull that deputizes Heinrich Kramer and James Sprenger as inquisitors to root out alleged witchcraft in Germany and leads to one of the severest witch hunts in European history.
†   1492 – Christopher Columbus, a Secular Franciscan, becomes the first European to set foot on the island of Hispaniola.
†   1590 – Niccolo Sfondrati chosen Pope Gregory XIV
†   2008 – Death of Patriarch Alexy II of Russia, head of the Russian Orthodox Church (b. 1929)
†   Feast Day: Saint Abercius

(From the “On This Day” Blog Site
otday.wordpress.com) &/OR
“Today in Catholic History”
http://www.historyorb.com)

 

 

Quote or Joke of the Day:

 

Franciscans emphasize the dignity of the human person, especially in its social nature.

 

Although all creation is the “footprint of God,” the Franciscan tradition understands that human beings are also created in the very image and likeness of God. Humans represent in a special way God who is Trinity, and therefore we achieve our personal fulfillment in relationship to God and in community rather than in the isolation of individualism. 

“Her life was an instruction and a lesson to others: in this book of life some learned the rule of living, in this mirror of life others learned to behold the paths of life.”  Papal Decree of the Canonization of St. Clare

(From the Franciscan Action Network (FAN) website:
http://www.franciscanaction.org)

 

 

Today’s reflection is about John the Baptist, the last prophet before Jesus Christ’s appearing in Judea; and his preaching of a message for repentance.

 

1 In those days John the Baptist appeared, preaching in the desert of Judea 2 (and) saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”  3 It was of him that the prophet Isaiah had spoken when he said: “A voice of one crying out in the desert, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.'”  4 John wore clothing made of camel’s hair and had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey.  5 At that time Jerusalem, all Judea, and the whole region around the Jordan were going out to him 6 and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River as they acknowledged their sins.  7 When he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?  8 Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance.  9 And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’  For I tell you, God can raise up children to Abraham from these stones.  10 Even now the ax lies at the root of the trees.  Therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.  11 I am baptizing you with water, for repentance, but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I.  I am not worthy to carry his sandals.  He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.  12 His winnowing fan is in his hand.  He will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”  (NAB Matthew 3:1-12)

 

This week’s Gospel (and next’s) bids all of us to think about John the Baptist and his relationship to Jesus.  Today, Matthew describes the work and preaching of this “forerunner” to the Messiah, called “John the Baptist.”  Unlike Luke in his Gospel, Matthew does not impart on us any details of John the Baptist’s origins, and does not declare John as a relative of Jesus.  Matthew brings forward the sequence of Jesus’ ministry found in the Gospel of Mark with the preliminary preaching, teachings, and actions of “John the Baptist”.

John’s life was fueled by an intense, burning, and all-consuming passion — to point others to Jesus Christ and to the coming of His kingdom.  John was led by the Holy Spirit into an austere life in the “wilderness” well before to his “ministry.”  The “desert of Judea” was (and still is) a barren area west of the Dead Sea extending up and into the Jordan valley.  As Jesus (John’s cousin) will be tested in the desert, John was also tested by Satan.  John matured in the “Law”, the “Word”, and the “Presence” of God in his life, and he completed the cycle of holy prophets begun by Elijah.   

John makes absolutely obvious and plainly clear that his relationship to the “Messiah yet to come” (Jesus) was one of service and submissiveness. This was made evident in his declaring that “the one who is coming after me is mightier than I.  I am not worthy to carry his sandals”.   

Holy Scripture tells us that John was filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb (Luke 1:15, 41).  When Mary visited Elizabeth, John leapt in her womb, filled with the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:41).  The fire of the “Holy Spirit” lived and “burned brightly, intensely, and fully” in John the Baptist, and made him the prophesized “forerunner” of the coming Messiah as described in Isaiah 40:3:

“A voice cries out: In the desert prepare the way of the LORD!  Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God!”

I have a problem with the translation of the above verse, which is not uncommon in using the “NAB” Catholic Bible for me recently.  In this instance, I have chosen to go back to the origin Greek.  The Interlinear Greek Bible actually translates Isaiah 40:3 directly as:

utoV  gar  FOR THIS estin IS o HE WHO rhqeiV WAS SPOKEN upo BY hsaiou ISAIAH tou THE profhtou PROPHET legontoV SAYING fwnh THE VOICE bowntoV OF ONE CRYING en IN th THE erhmw WILDERNESS etoimasate PREPARE thn THE odon WAY kuriou OF THE LORD euqeiaV STRAIGHT poieite  taV MAKE tribouV  autou HIS PATHS taV MAKE tribouV WITH PATHS tou THE qeou OF GOD hmwn US.” 

(The bold is not Greek.  Apparently, it does not convert from word to WordPress.)

(Pretty cool and poetic though, isn’t it!!  The original Greek gives me a whole new meaning.  I love learning new “old” thinks.)

John the Baptist’s preaching is not meant to be a type of “finger-pointing” ultimatum, in an attempt to “scare” the “unholy hell” out of us.  He is simply calling for a change of heart and behavior through repentance.  John preaches of a turning from a life of rebellion to one of absolute and complete obedience to God.  He characterizes the conversion of those – – who sought him out in that enormous barren desert of Judea, – – with a “baptism” of repentance.  John’s baptism should be understood by us as a belief, hope, and anticipation of baptism of the Holy Spirit.  In today’s Gospel, John himself even alludes to the difference between his baptism and the “one yet to come” in saying:

I am baptizing you with water, for repentance . . . He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”

His message was similar to the message of the Old Testament prophets who scolded the Jewish people for their lack of faith.  Living among a “proud” people who seemed to be unconcerned with the “things of God” (secularization), it was John’s mission to awaken them, unsettle them, and arouse in them enough willingness to recognize and receive the “Messiah” when He arrived!   

John declares that “the kingdom of heaven is at hand”.  For John, this word “heaven,” was a proxy for the name of “God”, a name always avoided (still even today) by devout Jews out of reverence and respect.  Interestingly, the expression “the kingdom of heaven” occurs only in the Gospel of Matthew, and points to the actual and authentic power and reign of God over His people.  

In its fullness and completeness, the “kingdom of heaven” not only includes one’s obedience to God’s word but the joy and victory of God over earthly, human, and physical evils – – particularly over death of the body and soul.  John shared the Jewish belief that the “kingdom” was to be ushered in by a judgment from God, in which sinners would be condemned and perish.  Catholics have modified this belief somewhat, wherein the “kingdom” is seen as being established in a form or type of stages, ending with the Parousia (Second Coming) of Jesus.

John the Baptist was one of, and the last of, the great holy prophets of Israel.  He preached “repentance” of sins to the people of Israel.  The description of John’s being, spirituality, and presence found in this reading is reminiscent of the description of the great prophet, Elijah.  The “hairy” garment of John was considered by the Jewish people as a sign of an ascetical (somebody who is self-denying and lives with minimal material comforts) and prophetic calling, similar to Elijah’s demeanor, physical being, and calling.  It recalls the austere garment of Elijah, as found in 2 Kings 1:8:

’Wearing a hairy garment,’ they replied, ‘with a leather girdle about his loins.’ ‘It is Elijah the Tishbite!’ he exclaimed.”

The belief, hope, and anticipation of the return of “Elijah” from heaven in order to prepare the Jewish people for the final manifestation of God’s “kingdom” was prevalent and well-known among John’s audience,the first century Jewish people.  According to Matthew, this expectation was fulfilled in John the Baptist’s ministry.  In Matthew 11:14, it is written:

And if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah, the one who is to come.” 

Also, in Matthew 17:11-13, it goes on to say:

He said in reply, ‘Elijah will indeed come and restore all things; but I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him but did to him whatever they pleased.  So also will the Son of Man suffer at their hands.’  Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist.”

“Ritual washing” was practiced by various groups in Palestine for at least 400 years (around 150 B.C. to 250 A.D.).  John’s acts of baptism very well may have been related to the purifying washings of the ascetic Jewish community called the “Essenes” who lived in an area called “Qumran” (about a mile from the northwestern shore of the Dead Sea).

The “Pharisees and Sadducees” that John the Baptist saw and talked to were Jewish temple leaders, who also had responsibilities outside the religious aspects of their jobs, giving them responsibilities very similar to our present day political leaders in their society.  The Pharisees were intensely devoted to the “Mosaic Law”, both written and oral.  Most scholars believe that another group called the “Scribes”, who were considered the experts in the Mosaic Law, also belonged predominantly to this “party” of Temple leaders.  

The Sadducees were a priestly “aristocratic” party, well entrenched in Jerusalem.  This group or party only accepted as “Scripture” the first five books of the Old Testament (the Torah or Pentateuch).  The Sadducees followed the “letter of the law”, and rejected any oral traditions (the main way of teaching the Jewish and historical faith).  Most interesting for me is that they were defiantly opposed to any teachings NOT found in the Torah such as “resurrection of the dead.”  For me, no hope in a resurrection definitely would make one “Sad-You-See!”

Matthew links all three of these religious/political groups together as “enemies” of Jesus.  The threatening words of John in verses 7 through 12 are addressed to these Temple Leaders who were present, rather than to “the crowds” as is found and reported in Luke 3:7.  “The coming wrath,” that John is declaring in verse 7, is the “final judgment” that will bring about the eternal destruction for non-repentant and non-remorseful sinners. 

So, go to confession, and go often.  It’s an awesome experience!  Every time we turn to God in reconciliation, He RUNS to us, and allows us to see a small glimpse of heaven – His kingdom – thus filling us completely with hope and joy.

Fire in the Bible, is regularly connected with God, with His acts in the world, and in the lives of His people.  God manifested His actual presence with the use of fire, such as with the non-consuming “burning bush” when God spoke to Moses, as written in Exodus 3:2.  The image of fire is also used to symbolize God’s glory in Ezekiel 1:4 and 1:13, His protective presence in 2 Kings 6:17, His holiness in Deuteronomy 4:24, His righteous judgment in Zechariah 13:9, and even His wrath against sin as in Isaiah 66:15-16. 

The baptism via water from John was be followed by a washing away of the persons sins via a cleansing power of the Holy Spirit of God.  Some believers of that period saw the Holy Spirit and fire as synonymous.  Jesus was said to baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire.   The first Catholic communities believed the “Holy Spirit and fire” was to be understood, in actuality, in the context of what happened at Pentecost, as described in Acts 2:1-4:

“When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together.  And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were.  Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them.  And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim

In John the Baptist’s preaching though, the “Spirit and fire” was in regards to their purifying and refining characteristics as found in Old Testament books of Ezekiel 36:25-27 and  Malachi 3:2-3.

“I will sprinkle clean water upon you to cleanse you from all your impurities, and from all your idols I will cleanse you.  I will give you a new heart and place a new spirit within you, taking from your bodies your stony hearts and giving you natural hearts.  I will put my spirit within you and make you live by my statutes, careful to observe my decrees.”

and

“But who will endure the day of his coming? And who can stand when he appears?  For he is like the refiner’s fire, or like the fuller’s lye.  He will sit refining and purifying (silver), and he will purify the sons of Levi, Refining them like gold or like silver that they may offer due sacrifice to the LORD.”

Our baptism in Jesus Christ, “by water and Spirit”, results in a new birth and entry into God’s kingdom as his beloved sons and daughters (see John 3:5).  Do you want to experience that feeling of being on fire for God?   Do you want to be on fire for God and for the return of the Lord Jesus when he comes in His magnificence and glory?  Hell Yes!! (Wait; actually it should be “Hell NO!! – I think.  Hey, you know what I mean.)

The judgment between the “good” and “bad” is compared to a procedure in which a farmer separates wheat and chaff.  The “winnowing fan” was a farming tool, a forklike shovel with which the threshed wheat was thrown into the air. The kernels fell to the ground; the light chaff, which was blown clear by the wind, was then gathered and burned up.  My sons do the same activity every fall with our brightly colored and browned fallen leaves, but only after I have meticulously created neat and tidy piles in preparation of picking them up.

Today’s Gospel will be followed next Sunday by Jesus’ baptism celebrated and witnessed by this Holy prophet, John; an event that is attested to in ALL of the Gospels, and acknowledged by all as the start of Jesus’ “public ministry.”  

God wants to do much more than pardoning our sins.  He wants to open up heaven and give us His unrelenting love, healing, and peace.  John’s preaching of the “coming of the Lord” is an essential theme for the Advent season.  John’s message prepared the way for Jesus in the early first century.  Today, we are also “called” to prepare ourselves for Jesus’ coming.  We must respond in repenting our iniquities, and in re-forming our lives into the mold of our Lord, Jesus Christ.  We are also called “to be prophets of Christ”, loudly and publically announcing the coming of the Lord.

It seems that “Messianic” prophesies are never vague in nature.  They always point to a hope that can be fulfilled in the human heart and soul.  Wars, terrorism, poverty, and useless death through the pitiful actions of abortion, euthanasia, and the death penalty smothers hope.  As Catholics, our hope is for peace, healing, and generosity in ourselves, and in others.  In essence, – what we pray for, we must also work for!  For me, this is exactly how we must approach preparing for the “advent” of our personal and intimate relationship with God in His “kingdom”!

We do an enormous amount of chores in order to get ourselves ready for the “secular” Christmas.  We purchase gifts, prepare Christmas cards, decorate our homes, and so on.  John the Baptist’s call for repentance in preparation for Jesus’ Parousia, should remind us that “our repentance” is another essential way to prepare for the “Lord’s coming” and our celebration of the Actual and True Christmas experience.  

Are you eager to hear God’s word and to be changed by it through the power of the Holy Spirit?  Do you point others to Christ in the way you live, work, and speak?

Parish communities usually offer a “communal” celebration of the “Sacrament of Reconciliation” during the Advent season.  Participate in this communal celebration – – it is such a beautiful Sacrament.  If you cannot attend a communal celebration, please seek out the Sacrament of Reconciliation on an individual basis.

 

 

Act of Contrition

 

“My God, I am sorry for my sins with all my heart. In choosing to do wrong and failing to do good, I have sinned against you whom I should love above all things.  I firmly intend, with your help, to do penance, to sin no more, and to avoid whatever leads me to sin.  Our Savior Jesus Christ suffered and died for us.  In his name, my God, have mercy.  Amen.”

 

Pax et Bonum
Dan Halley, SFO

 

*****

 

 

 

A Franciscan’s Saint of the Day:  St. Sabas (b. 439)

 

Born in Cappadocia (modern-day Turkey), Sabas is one of the most highly regarded patriarchs among the monks of Palestine and is considered one of the founders of Eastern monasticism.

After an unhappy childhood in which he was abused and ran away several times, Sabas finally sought refuge in a monastery. While family members tried to persuade him to return home, the young boy felt drawn to monastic life. Although the youngest monk in the house, he excelled in virtue.

At age 18 he traveled to Jerusalem, seeking to learn more about living in solitude. Soon he asked to be accepted as a disciple of a well-known local solitary, though initially he was regarded as too young to live completely as a hermit. Initially, Sabas lived in a monastery, where he worked during the day and spent much of the night in prayer. At the age of 30 he was given permission to spend five days each week in a nearby remote cave, engaging in prayer and manual labor in the form of weaving baskets. Following the death of his mentor, St. Euthymius, Sabas moved farther into the desert near Jericho. There he lived for several years in a cave near the brook Cedron. A rope was his means of access. Wild herbs among the rocks were his food. Occasionally men brought him other food and items, while he had to go a distance for his water.

Some of these men came to him desiring to join him in his solitude. At first he refused. But not long after relenting, his followers swelled to more than 150, all of them living in individual huts grouped around a church, called a laura.

The bishop persuaded a reluctant Sabas, then in his early 50s, to prepare for the priesthood so that he could better serve his monastic community in leadership. While functioning as abbot among a large community of monks, he felt ever called to live the life of a hermit. Throughout each year —consistently in Lent—he left his monks for long periods of time, often to their distress. A group of 60 men left the monastery, settling at a nearby ruined facility. When Sabas learned of the difficulties they were facing, he generously gave them supplies and assisted in the repair of their church.

Over the years Sabas traveled throughout Palestine, preaching the true faith and successfully bringing back many to the Church. At the age of 91, in response to a plea from the Patriarch of Jerusalem, Sabas undertook a journey to Constantinople in conjunction with the Samaritan revolt and its violent repression. He fell ill and, soon after his return, died at the monastery at Mar Saba. Today the monastery is still inhabited by monks of the Eastern Orthodox Church, and St. Sabas is regarded as one of the most noteworthy figures of early monasticism.

Comment:

Few of us share Sabas’s yearning for a cave in the desert, but most of us sometimes resent the demands others place on our time. Sabas understands that. When at last he gained the solitude for which he yearned, a community immediately began to gather around him and he was forced into a leadership role. He stands as a model of patient generosity for anyone whose time and energy are required by others—that is, for all of us.

 Saint of the Day: Lives, Lessons and Feast
By Leonard Foley, O.F.M.;
revised by Pat McCloskey, O.F.M.
(From http://www.americancatholic.org website)

 

Secular Franciscan Order (SFO) Rule #’s 5 & 6 of 26:

 

5.     Secular Franciscans, therefore, should seek to encounter the living and active person of Christ in their brothers and sisters, in Sacred Scripture, in the Church, and in liturgical activity. The faith of St. Francis, who often said, “I see nothing bodily of the Most High Son of God in this world except His most holy body and blood,” should be the inspiration and pattern of their Eucharistic life.

 

 

 

 

6.     They have been made living members of the Church by being buried and raised with Christ in baptism; they have been united more intimately with the Church by profession. Therefore, they should go forth as witnesses and instruments of her mission among all people, proclaiming Christ by their life and words.

Called like Saint Francis to rebuild the Church and inspired by his example, let them devote themselves energetically to living in full communion with the pope, bishops, and priests, fostering an open and trusting dialog of apostolic effectiveness and creativity.

 

 

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