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“Is ‘Baptism’ By ‘FIRE’ As Painful As it Sounds? For Some, It Just May Be! We Call Them Martyrs” – Luke 3:15-16,21-22†


  the-Baptism-of-Jesus

“The Baptism of the Lord”

 

. table_of_contentsToday’s Content:

  • ·        Dan’s Deliberations, Discoveries, & Declarations
  • ·        Joke of the Day
  • ·        Today’s Gospel Reading
  • ·        Gospel Reflection
  • ·        Reflection Prayer  

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Dan’s Deliberations, Discoveries, & Declarations:

 

Postures and Gestures at Mass: Catholic Calisthenics

So, why all the exercising at Mass: genuflect, kneel, sit, stand, sit, stand, sit, stand, kneel, stand, kneel, stand, bow, kneel, sit, stand, and finally, genuflect?  Wow, I’m tired just writing the sentence!  Well, in the celebration of Mass we are to raise our hearts, thoughts and voices to God.  Being creatures composed of “body” as well as 00000000000000063560“spirit”, our “prayers” are not confined to solely our thoughts, hearts and voices; it is also expressed by our bodies as well.  When our bodies participate in praying – – we truly and fully pray with our “whole person” – – as the embodied spirits God created us to be.  This engagement of our whole being in prayer helps us to pray with greater attention

During Mass we assume different postures: standing, kneeling, sitting, and make a variety of gestures.  These postures and gestures are far from being merely ceremonial in nature.  They truly have profound meaning, and can certainly enhance our personal participation in Mass.  In fact, these actions ARE the way in which we engage our entire self, body and soul, in the prayer that we know as “Mass”.  Each posture underlines and reinforces the meaning of the action in which we are taking part during that specific moment in our worship.  

Standing is a sign of respect and honor, so we stand as the celebrant who represents Christ enters and leaves the assembly.  This posture, from the earliest days of the Church, has been understood as the stance of those who are risen with Christ and seek the things that are above.  When we stand for prayer we assume our full stature before God, not in pride, but in humble gratitude for the marvelous thing God has done in creating and redeeming each one of us.  By Baptism we have been given a share in the life of God, and the posture of standing is an acknowledgment of this wonderful gift.  We stand for the Gospel, the pinnacle of revelation, the words and deeds of the Lord, and the bishops of the United States have chosen standing as the posture to be observed in this country for the reception of Communion, the sacrament which unites us in the most profound way possible with Christ who, now gloriously risen from the dead, is the cause of our salvation.

The posture of kneeling signified penance in the early Church: the awareness of sin casts us to the ground!  So thoroughly was kneeling identified with penance that the early Christians were forbidden to kneel on Sundays and during the Easter Season when the prevailing spirit of the liturgy was that of joy and thanksgiving.  In the Middle Ages kneeling came to signify the homage of a vassal to his lord, and more recently 00000000000000063360this posture has come to signify adoration.  It is for this reason that the bishops of this country have chosen the posture of kneeling for the entire Eucharistic Prayer.  

Sitting is the posture of listening and meditation, so the congregation sits for the pre-Gospel readings and may also sit for the period of meditation following Communion.

Gestures too involve our bodies in prayer.  The most familiar of these is the Sign of the Cross with which we begin Mass and with which, in the form of a blessing, the Mass concludes.  Because it was by his death on the cross that Christ redeemed humankind, we trace the sign of the cross on our foreheads, lips and hearts at the beginning of the Gospel.  But there are other gestures that intensify our prayer at Mass.  During the Confiteor the action of striking our breasts at the words through my own fault can strengthen my awareness that my sin is my fault.  

In the Creed we are invited to bow at the words which commemorate the Incarnation: by the power of the Holy Spirit he was born of the Virgin Mary and became man.  This gesture signifies our profound respect and gratitude to Christ who, though God, did not hesitate to come among us as a human being, sharing our human condition in order to save us from sin and restore us to friendship with God.  This gratitude is expressed with even greater solemnity on the Feast of the Annunciation of the Lord and on Christmas when we genuflect at these words.

The Our Father is followed by the Exchange of Peace, the gesture through which we express a prayerful greeting of peace, that we are at peace, not enmity, with others.  This exchange is symbolic.  The persons near me with whom I share the peace signify for me, as I do for them, the broader community of the Church and all humankind.

Finally, with the new General Instruction for the Roman Mass (GIRM), we are asked to make a sign of reverence, to be determined by the bishops of each country or region, before receiving Communion standing.  The bishops of this country have determined that the sign which we will give before Communion is to be a bow, a gesture through which we express our reverence and give honor to Christ who comes to us as our spiritual food.

In addition to serving as a vehicle for the prayer of beings composed of body and spirit, the postures and gestures in which we engage at Mass have another very important function.  The Church sees in these common postures and gestures both a symbol of the unity of those who have come together to worship AND a means of fostering that unity.  We are not free to change these postures to suit our own individual piety, for the Church makes it clear that our unity of posture and gesture is an expression of our participation in the one Body formed by the baptized with Christ, our head.  When we stand, kneel, sit, bow and sign ourselves in common action, we given unambiguous witness that we are indeed the Body of Christ, united in heart, mind and spirit.

http://old.usccb.org/romanmissal/resources-bulletins3.shtml

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. Joke laughingJoke of the Day:

 Luke03v15to17&21to22_2010

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Today’s reflection: Jesus is baptized by John.  What is the difference between John’s and Jesus’ Baptisms?

 the-Baptism-of-Jesus

(NAB Luke 3:15-16, 21-22)  15 Now the people were filled with expectation, and all were asking in their hearts whether John might be the Messiah.  16 John answered them all, saying, l “I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming.  I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals.  He will baptize you with the holy Spirit and fire.  21 After all the people had been baptized and Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, heaven was opened 22 and the holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove.  And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

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. ReflectionGospel Reflection:

 

Today we celebrate the “Feast of the Baptism of the Lord”.  In today’s the other Gospel accounts of Je040111_ssus’ baptism, we hear “John the Baptist” address, and correct the confusion of the people who thought that he might be the “Messiah”.  In his response, John contrasts the baptism that he performs with that of the Baptism which Jesus inaugurates – – with water AND the Holy Spirit.  The type of Baptism that John performed during his ministry mission was not yet a full Christian Baptism.  Instead, it was the preliminary foundation for the Christian Baptism of, through, and in Jesus Christ – – through which OUR sins are forgiven AND the gift of the Holy Spirit are received.

The baptism of Jesus is reported in each of the three Synoptic Gospels—Matthew, Mark, and Luke (but not in John’s).  Noticeably, the three Synoptic Gospels report the same event is quite rare and revelational. 

Both Mark and Luke report the story from Jesus’ perspective, with “the voice from heaven” addressed to Him.  However, Matthew’s Gospel has instead “the voice from heavenspLOI-Voice-of-Godeaking to everyone.  Also, in Luke, the Holy Spirit descends upon Jesus during His time of “prayer” – – after His “baptism”.  Through His Gospel today, you will notice Luke shows Jesus to be a person of prayer who withdraws regularly from the crowds AND His disciples as well, in order to pray to His heavenly Father privately.  Jesus goes on to teach His follows “HOW” to pray.

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Today’s reading begins with the people at the scene of the event wondering and questions whether JJohn_the_Baptist%20imageohn the Baptist may actually be the promised “Savior-Messiah”:

“Now the people were filled with expectation, and all were asking in their hearts whether John might be the Messiah (Luke 3:15). 

And so, John knew their questions, and he responded to their inquiries by saying:

I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is comingI am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandalsHe will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Luke 3:16). 

Luke even reiterates John the Baptist’s response in his other book, “The Acts of the Apostles”:

“John heralded his [Jesus’] coming by proclaiming a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel; and as John was completing his course, he would say, ‘What do you suppose that I am?  I am not He.  Behold, one is coming after me; I am not worthy to unfasten the sandals of His feet’” (Acts 13:24-25).

So, what does John mean by saying about Jesus:Through_Water_and_Fire_MAIN

He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Luke 3:16).

Well, John is stating that he only gives a “baptism with water” representing repentance.  Jesus, however, will “baptize with the Holy Spirit AND with fire”.  From the point of view of the early [1st Century] Catholic-Christian Community, the “Holy Spirit and fire” was understood as a representation of the “fire” poured out from the Holy Spirit in the desert, in the Temple, and finally, in the upper room at the time of Pentecost (the Jewish remembrance  of the “fire” and brimstone on Mt. Sinai):

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” (Acts 2:1–4).

There are two core symbolisms in these four verses from the above passage from Acts (Acts 2:1-4); I’ll cburning_bushomment on both.  I’ll start with “fire”.  Fire” in biblical times was associated with God and with His action in the world AND , His personal presence in the lives of His people during their exodus, and during His enduring personal presence in the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place (the Holy of Holies) of the Temple.  God sometimes manifested His presence by use of “fire”, such as in the burning bush which was not consumed when God spoke to Moses (cf., Exodus 3:2). 

The figure of “fire” was also used to represent His holiness (cf., Deuteronomy 4:24), His protective presence (cf., 2 Kings 6:17), God’s glory (cf., Ezekiel 1:4, 13), His wrath against sin (cf., Isaiah 66:15-16), and His righteous judgment (cf., Zechariah 13:9),.  

So, writers of the New Testament books were inspired by the Holy Spirit to use “fire” to represent the actions of the Holy Spirit – – Himself (cf., Matthew 3:11 and Acts 2:3).  God’s “fire” both purifies and cleanses; and it inspires a reverent fear of God – – and a reverence for His “Word”.  

The second core symbol is the “strong driving wind”.  The sound of the “strong driving wind” heralded a “new action of God” in His history of, and plan for, the salvation of all the human race.  tonguesThe “tongues as of fire” symbolizes the presence of God initiating again – – renewing – – His covenant on Mount Sinai:

Mount Sinai was completely enveloped in smoke, because the LORD had come down upon it in fire.  The smoke rose from it as though from a kiln, and the whole mountain trembled violently” (Exodus 19:18).

At Pentecost, the “Holy Spirit” acts upon the Apostles, preparing them to “proclaim” the spirit-of-pentecost-the_t_nvNEW covenant, with its unique gift from the Holy Spirit, “to speak in different tongues”.  This gift of “speaking in tongues” is a grace of ecstatic prayer – – in praise of God.  This gift of the Holy Spirit is appreciated (cf., in Acts 2:6, 11) through a speaking in foreign languages, and thus symbolizing the worldwide mission of the Catholic Church.

However, as part of John the Baptist’s preaching, the “Holy Spirit and fire”, he is relating them to their Jewish Scripture references about their “purifying” and “refining” natures:

“I will sprinkle clean water over you to make you clean; from all your impurities and from all your idols I will cleanse you.  I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you.  I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.  I will put my spirit within you so that you walk in my statutes, observe my ordinances, and keep them.” (Ezekiel 36:25–27);

 “But who can endure the day of his coming?  Who can stand firm when he appears?  For He will be like a refiner’s fire, like fullers’ lye.  He will sit refining and purifying silver, and he will purify the Levites, Refining them like gold or silver, that they may bring offerings to the LORD in righteousness” (Malichi 3:2–3).

So, as a quick summary of the differences and representations between Jbaptism_of_jesusohn the Baptist’s and Jesus Christ’s Baptism’s is that the “water baptism” of John the Baptist will be followed by either an “immersion” of the repentant in the “cleansing power” of the Spirit of God (the Holy Spirit) – – OR, an “immersion” of the “unrepentant” in the devastating fiery wrath of God at their final judgment.  

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Today’s event in Luke’s Gospel focuses on the heavenly message identifying Jesus as God the Father’s “Son” – – AND, through a reference by “Isaiah”, as being the “Servant of Yahweh”:

Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one with whom I am pleased.  Upon him I have put my spirit; He shall bring forth justice to the nations (Isaiah 42:1).

Three other passages have also popularly been called “Servant of the Lord” verses (cf., Matthew 49:1–7; 5pbwu-servant0:4–11; 52:13–53:12).  Ultimately however, the description of the “mission” of the “servant” has been applied ONLY to Jesus Christ:

Behold, my servant whom I have chosen, my beloved in whom I delight; I shall place my spirit upon him, and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles.  He will not contend or cry out, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets.  A bruised reed he will not break, a smoldering wick he will not quench, until he brings justice to victory.  And in his name the Gentiles will hope (Matthew 12:18–21).

I can’t help but think of the Passion narratives when thinking of Jesus as the “sent” “Servant”.  Jesus proclaimed the “Word”; He never was contentious or cried out; He was struck many times with reeds; and He brought justice into our world.  WOW!!  With all this (plus many other connecting verses from Holy Scripture), who can deny the divine “Servant-hood” of the man, Jesus Christ!!

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Through the life-giving “baptism with water and the Holy Spirit”, Jesus has been, and is still creating a NEW people of God, both Jew AND Gentile alike.  In doing so, Jesus identifies Himself with the pebranch2ople of Israel by submitting to John’s “baptism of repentanceAND in His bearing, on their behalf, and OURS, the burden of God’s decisive judgment:

“He [John the Baptist] went throughout [the] whole region of the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sinsAfter all the people had been baptized and Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, heaven was opened” (Luke 3:3, 21).  

In His humble submission to John’s “baptism”, we see a foreshadowing of the “baptism” found in His ge0274ruesomely bloody death upon the Holy Cross of Redemptive Salvation.  Jesus’ “baptism” signifies His acceptance to, and the beginning of, His earthly mission as God’s “suffering Servant”.  Jesus allowed Himself to be numbered among sinners, and to die as one, without being one!!  Jesus submitted Himself entirely to His Father’s will of redeeming His human creatures, Jews and Gentiles alike.  Out of love, Jesus consented to this “baptism” of death – reflections on Christ - crucifixion– “baptism” by “fire” – – for the remission of OUR sins. So, please realize, understand, and know the JOY of trust and submission Jesus had to His heavenly Father, God, even to that of a known death in His name, a Martyrdom of Salvation.   

At the Jordan River, in the desert of Sinai, in the wilderness of Judea, “Israel’s” Sonship with God is to be renewed through JesuthCAW7PLKLs’ “baptism”.  And, the “descent of the “Holy Spirit” on Jesus Christ anoints Him for His public ministry:

The spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him: a spirit of wisdom and of understanding, A spirit of counsel and of strength, a spirit of knowledge and of fear of the LORD … Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one with whom I am pleased.  Upon him I have put my spirit; he shall bring forth justice to the nations … The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me; He has sent me to bring good news to the afflicted, to bind up the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives, release to the prisoners … in their every affliction.  It was not an envoy or a messenger, but his presence that saved them.  Because of his love and pity the LORD redeemed them, Lifting them up and carrying them all the days of old (Isaiah 11:2; 42:1; 61:1; 63:9).

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Luke regularly presents Jesus “at prayer” during important points in His public ministry:

  • ·        Here, in today’s reading, at His baptism; jesus-at-prayer
  • ·        Jesus’ choosing of the Twelve (cf., Luke 6:12);
  • ·        Before asking His disciples “Who do the people say that I am?”, and “Who do you say that I am?”(cf., Luke 9:18);
  • ·        On the Mountain of the Transfiguration (cf., Luke 9:28);
  • ·        When teaching His disciples to pray (cf., Luke 11:1);
  • ·        During the Last Supper (cf., Luke 22:32);
  • ·        In the garden on the Mount of Olives (cf., Luke 22:41); and finally,
  • ·        On the Holy Cross of Redemption and Salvation (cf., Luke 23:46).

A uniqueness found in Luke’s Gospel, and not in any other Gospel, is Jesus praying immediately following His Baptism:

“After all the people had been baptized and Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, heaven was opened” (Luke 3:21). 

Jesus’ actions and prayers are answered in a unique, intimate, very personal – – AND often times PUBLIC – – ways:

Heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in bodily form like a doveAnd a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (Luke 3:21-22)

The Father proclaimed His entire delight in His “Son”, speaking audibly for all present to hear.  The HLOI-Voice-of-Godoly Spirit was also present as He “anointed” Jesus for His public ministry beginning on that day – – as He rose from the waters of the Jordan River.   

Jesus’ Greek brethren publically were aware of a previous declaration of God, through David, concerning not only David himself, but also of the future “King of the Jews”, revealed as God’s “Servant Son”, today “begotten” by God the Father:

“I will proclaim the decree of the LORD, he said to me, ‘You are my son; today I have begotten you’” (Psalm 2:7).

God the Father acknowledges Jesus as His divinely unique Son, the object of His love.  His expressing of His delight in, approval of, Jesus Christ is the assurance that He, Jesus, will fulfill His messianic mission of redemption and salvation – – for ALL people – – Jew and Gentile alike!!

Luke goes on to write:Desceding Dove b_w

The Holy Spirit descended upon Him in bodily form like a dove” (Luke 3:22). 

The “dove” is a symbol of the NEW creation in the flood, talked about in Genesis, and well-known in Jesus’ community of “Israel”:

“He [Noah] released a dove, to see if the waters had lessened on the earth” (Genesis 8:8);

“Out of Egypt they shall come trembling, like birds, like doves, from the land of Assyria; And I will resettle them in their homes, oracle of the LORD” (Hosea 11:11).

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T. summarize titlehe “baptism” of Jesus is considered a “manifestation” of God in Jesus HIMSELF – – another “epiphany.”  Today, on this last day of the Christmas Season, our Gospel reveals to us Jesus’ true relationship to God the Father.  The “son” (little “s”) of Mary and Joseph is also God’s OWN “Son” (big “S”)!!  

Jesus came to give us the “fire” of His Spirit so that we may radiate the JOY and truth of His Gospel to a world desperately needing God’s lightpenti and truth.  His “Word” has power to change and transform our lives, making us “flaming lights” pointing others to Jesus Christ.  We are called to follow Jesus in His public ministry of teaching, healing, and loving.  We are also called to oppose unjust and violent powers in the world today.  Like John the Baptist, we too are called to give testimony to the light and truth of Jesus Christ in all of our endeavors.  Let Jesus Christ’s power, grace, and love burn brightly in your life!  Ask Him to “fill” – – “fulfill” – – you with His Holy Spirit.  As we follow Jesus into the Catholic Church’s Season of “Ordinary Time”, identify what needs to be “filled” – – “fulfilled” – – in your life, and in others.  Amen; Amen!!  (“Selahi”, which means “Take breath, relax, rejoice, and saver what you just read – – the truth.)

In today’s Gospel, notice that all three “persons” of the Holy Trinity are manifested:  God the Father in the voice, th1983254601_3cd17489a9_oe Holy Spirit descending like a dove, and Jesus the Son in the one being “Baptized” and “Anointed” for His unique public ministry.  

Luke is communicating to us the crucial information about the true identity of Jesus Christ.  In verses following today’s reading, Luke lists the genealogy of Jesus, tracing Jesus’ ancestry back to thbrazzers-adam-evee first person of creation, Adam, who is also identified as the “son of God” (cf., Luke 3:23-38).  We – – the children of Adam and Eve – – are again made children of God – – made NEW – – through Jesus’ Baptism.

Examine Jesus’ humility in today’s Gospel reading.  Ask the Holy Spirit to forge this same attitude of humility in your own heart.  As you do so, “heaven will open” for you as well.  The Lord Jesus Christ is always ready to renew and refashion each of us th2012-LT-Theme-Wallpaper-1600x900rough His Holy Spirit, AND also to anoint us for OUR special and unique mission – – as His ambassadors.  The Lord wants His love and truth to shine through us so that others may see the goodness and truth of God’s message of Redemptive Salvation.  Ask Jesus Christ to “fill” you with His Holy Spirit, allowing YOU to radiate the JOY of His Gospel to ALL those around you.

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Every. conclusion person has a unique identity which is defined by their behaviors, attitudes, and expectations governing their daily lives and existence.  Each aspect of our identity is influenced by our personal history; eaidentity_52205ch expression is unique within him/her self.  In today’s Gospel, we learn that Jesus’ behavior, attitudes, and expectations were governed by His identity as God’s beloved Son.  In our personal “Baptism”, we were made from above, were made true, and are made children of this very same heavenly Father.  So, your individual identity – – as a living member of the “family of God”, and as a “brother or sister” of Jesus – – also shapes your own daily life and existence.  Think about this!  Selahi!!

Identify some of the expectations and behaviors that govern your life by answering the following question: “What are some of the things that make your life unique?”  Once you know the answer, once it is revealed to you, celebrate these things about your life.  How does this identity as a member of the family of God govern and shape your life?  Conclude today’s reflection with a prayer that we ALL will remain faithful to our baptismal identity as children of God and as brothers or sisters of Jesus Christ.  Amen!!

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Reflection Prayer: 

 

Our Father

 

Our Father,
Who art in Heaven, pray-lord-teach-us-to-pray-e1347301783151
hallowed be Thy name;
Thy Kingdom come,
Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread;
and forgive us our trespasses
as we forgive those who trespass against us;
and lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil. Amen.

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 Our%20Father2

“Are You The Wheat, Or Are You the Chaff? Got Me, I Grew Up In The City!” – Luke 3:10-18†


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3rd Sunday of Advent

. table_of_contentsToday’s Content:

 

  • ·        Dan’s Deliberations, Discoveries, & Declarations
  • ·        Quote of the Day
  • ·        Today’s Gospel Reading
  • ·        Gospel Reflection
  • ·        Reflection Prayer  

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Dan’s Deliberations, Discoveries, & Declarations:. pencil

 

The history of the Christmas tree has many stories of origin, and has had quite of few adaptations to its usage throughout history.  In my research of the Catholic aspect to Christmas tree history and origin, I left no [xmas] “leaf” unturned.  I hope you enjoy.

 

The Christmas Tree

 

Despite many historians’ attempts to link the Christmas tree to an ancient pagan practice, it is actually “Christian” in origin.  Whoa, how is that fact for a baited hook to get you to read on?!

Although it is highly unlikely that the Christmas tree – – as we know it today – – was first used in the 8th Century, some people believe the idea for the tree was invented by St. Boniface at that time.   Legend holds that St. Boniface 14was the first to co-opt the “tree” tradition for Christianity in the 8th century.  He was attempting to convert the Druids who worshipped oak trees as the symbol of their idol.  He instead offered the balsam fir tree, using its triangular shape to describe the Trinity and the fact that the evergreen branches pointed to heaven, as a symbol of God.  These new “converts” then began worshiping the Balsam fir tree as a Christian symbol. 

There are also claims that the first proper Christmas tree was erected in Riga, Latvia (one of the Baltic States) in 1510.  Today, there is a plaque in the Town Hall Square, in Riga, that is engraved with the text “The First New Year’s Tree in Riga in 1510“.  It is believed that this tree was possibly decorated with paper flowers, and then burned during the New Year’s celebration. 

Another legend has Martin Luther as being credited with bringing the popularity of the Christmas tree to Germany.  2011-11-13_10-48-16_573_288x287Out on a winter evening one night, while composing a sermon, he was awed by the beauty of the stars.  When he returned home, he attempted to recreate the beauty for his family by putting candles on an evergreen tree in his home.

We do know with certainty that the Christmas tree goes back to medieval German mystery plays.  One of the most popular “mysteries” was the “Paradise play”, representing the creation of man, the sin of Adam and Eve, and their expulsion from Paradise.  It usually closed with Christmas-Fir-Branches-2457977the consoling promise of the coming of the Savior, and referencing to His Incarnation.  These plays were performed in the open, on the large town squares in front of churches, or, sometimes even inside the house of God.  The Garden of Eden was indicated by a fir tree with apples hung on the branches.  It represented both the “Tree of Life” and the “Tree of KNowledge of Good and Evil”, which stood in the center of Paradise:

“Out of the ground the LORD God made grow every tree that was delightful to look at and good for food, with the tree of life in the middle of the garden and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Genesis 2:9).

When the pageant was performed in church, the “Paradeisbaum” (German for “Tree of Paradise”) was surrounded by lighted candles.  Inside a ring of lights surrounding the tree, the play was performed. 

In the 15th century, after the suppression of the “mystery plays” in the German churches, the symbolic object of the play, the tree itself, found its way into the homes of the faithful, and the Christmas tree then became a symbol of christmas_tree_albert2-747156the “Tree of the Savior”.  During this same time, the custom of a “tree” in the home developed into decorating the “Paradise Tree”, already bearing apples, with small white wafers representing the Holy Eucharist.  These wafers were later replaced by little pieces of pastry cut in the shapes of stars, angels, hearts, flowers, and bells.  Finally, other cookies were introduced to this tradition, bearing the shapes of men, birds, roosters and other animals.

The first known documented use of the fir tree as a Christmas tree is found in a description written by a German traveler visiting the city of Strasbourg (in the Alsace region of France, but formerly part of Germany) in 1605.  In this description, he tells of trees being planted in rooms, and that they were ornamented with “roses of colored paper, apples, tinsel, sugar cubes, and cookies”.

Until the 17th century the “Christbaum” (as the tree is called in German, meaning “Christ tree”) had no lights.  The Christmas candles, generally used in medieval times, were placed on a Christmas “pyramid”, made of graduated wooden shelves.  As time went on, the tree replaced the pyramid in its function of representing Christ as the “Light of the World”.  The candles and glittering decorations were eventually transferred from the pyramid to the tree.  

In the 1700’s the Christmas tree custom had spread throughout northern Germany.  People began decorating the tree with candles that were lit on Christmas Eve, a practice still done today in many homes across Europe.  As the 108n-grChristmas tree custom spread through Germany, the Roman Catholic Church eventually recognized the tradition in the early 1800’s.  It was introduced to Vienna in 1816, quickly spreading across Austria, and in 1840 to France by the duchesse d’Orleans.

German immigrants were most likely to have set up the first few Christmas trees in America, as early as 1710.   During the Revolutionary War, Hessian (German) soldiers were responsible for rapidly disseminating the practice throughout the entire US Eastern seaboard.  However, the Christmas tree did not become the principal symbol of Christmas in America, and was not used generally throughout American homes until late in the 19th century. 

treeIn 1846, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert (who was actually German) were pictured in the London News standing with their children around a Christmas tree.  As a result of this picture, the popularity of Christmas trees soared both in England and America.  By 1920, the custom of having a Christmas tree was almost universal.

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, pioneer families who settled in areas where evergreen trees were scarce made Christmas trees out of bare branches, painting them green, or wrapping the branches with green paper or cloth.  Sometimes a “tree” would be made by drilling holes in a broomstick and inserting branches of cedar or juniper into it.  Often the only Christmas tree in the community would be in the Church or school.  In the absence of a Christmas tree, presents were often hung by ribbons from a decorated clothesline strung across the corner of a room.

While many Christmas trees are set up in the home around the first of December (or earlier!), and are in the dumpster by January 2, many Catholic families often delay decorating the tree until Christmas Eve, still today.  It is thCAGLANJNappropriate, and a popular custom, to delay lighting the tree and to put gifts under the tree until Christmas Eve when we celebrate the coming into the world of the infant Jesus Christ, the Light of the World.

On Christmas Eve, parents might adorn the tree after small children are asleep, so that the first sight of Christmas morning is the gloriously adorned tree.  Families with older children could even make the decorating of the tree a family affair.  Many families bless their Christmas trees.  A Blessing for the Christmas tree could be said on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.

Through the use of the Christmas tree, we are reminded that our first parents (Adam & Eve) were not allowed to eat from one tree, and that Christ paid the great price for our redemption – – by hanging on a tree.  Being reminded that Christ is the “Light of the World” and that His light is everlasting, bringing joy and light into our dark world – – a christmas_angel_tree1-150x150blessing truly appropriate for this great Christian symbol of faith.  Here is a simple blessing for your Christmas tree:

“Holy Lord, we come with joy to celebrate the birth of your Son, who rescued us from the darkness of sin by making the cross a tree of life and light.  May this tree, arrayed in splendor, remind us of the life-giving cross of Christ, which we may always rejoice in the new life which shines in our hearts.  Lord God, may the presence of this tree remind us of your gift of everlasting life.  May its light keep us mindful of the light You brought into the world.  May the joy and peace of Christmas fill all our hearts.  We ask this through Christ our Lord.  Amen.”

Information obtained from the following sites:
http://www.wf-f.org/04-4-Traditions.html
http://www.christmastreehistory.net/christian
http://catholicexchange.com/the-history-of-the-christmas-tree/

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. thought2Quote of the Day:

 

“Let us submit ourselves to His guidance and sovereign direction; let us come to Him that He may forgive us, cleanse us, change us, guide us, and save us.  This is the true life of saints.” ~ Blessed John Henry Newman, “Life’s Purpose”, Pauline Books & Media

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Today’s reflection: John the Baptist teaches the path of repentance and announces Christ.  Did you hear what I heard?

hear 

(NAB Luke 3:10-18) 10 And the crowds asked him [John the Baptist], “What then should we do?”  11 He said to them in reply, “Whoever has two tunics should share with the person who has none.  And whoever has food should do likewise.”  12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized and they said to him, “Teacher, what should we do?”  13 He answered them, “Stop collecting more than what is prescribed.”  14 Soldiers also asked him, “And what is it that we should do?”  He told them, “Do not practice extortion, do not falsely accuse anyone, and be satisfied with your wages.”  15 Now the people were filled with expectation, and all were asking in their hearts whether John might be the Messiah.  16 John answered them all, saying, “I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming.  I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals.  He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.  17 His winnowing fan is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”  18 Exhorting them in many other ways, he preached good news to the people.

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. ReflectionGospel Reflection:

 

This Sunday’s Gospel continues last week’s focus on John the Baptist and his role in preparing “the way” for Christ.  Recall last week’s reading describing John’s appearance in the desert and establishing his connection with the prophetic tradition of Israel.  If we were to read Luke’s Gospel continuously, we would learn about John the Baptist challenging the crowds who came to him, and John’s calling upon them to show evidence of their repentance.  

With this in mind, I am starting with a few verses prior to this week’s reading (and also situated between last Sunday’s Gospel and 1211-gospel-lthis Sunday’s, Luke 3:7-9).  In this way, I would like to describe to you the three types of preaching by John the Baptist: (1) eschatological, (2) ethical, and (3) messianic.  An eschatological preaching (1) concerns the human soul (the person) in its relation to His death, judgment, and destinies – – either heaven or hell.  John the Baptist urges the crowds present around him – – getting their feet wet in the faith (and maybe their entire bodies as well) – – to reform their lives in view of the coming “wrath” expected with the appearance and coming of the Lord:

“He said to the crowds who came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers!  Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?  Even now the ax lies at the root of the trees.  Therefore every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire” (Luke 3:7,9).

John tells his listeners that they cannot rely on their lineage as Israelites.  Why (?): because true, authentic “children of Abraham can be raised up from stones” (Luke 3:8).  Rather, repentance must be observable in one’s actions.  So, the crowds, probably now questionfrightened by his words, ask John the Baptist:

What then should we do?” (Luke 3:10)

Hmm, I wonder how often I ask this same question: What am I to do Lord?  I know the answer, and sadly, I don’t like my answer.  Forgive me Lord, please!!  I will try to do better in the future with your help.  Amen.

John answers the crowds by drawing attention to, and preaching on, concrete ethical standards (2) (principles of correct moral conduct) for reforming their social behavior:

He said to them in reply, ‘Whoever has two tunics should share with the person who has none.  And whoever has food shoul03advientoC3d do likewise.’  Even tax collectors came to be baptized and they said to him, ‘Teacher, what should we do?’  He answered them, ‘Stop collecting more than what is prescribed.’  Soldiers also asked him, ‘And what is it that we should do?’  He told them, ‘Do not practice extortion, do not falsely accuse anyone, and be satisfied with your wages’” (Luke 3:11–14).

Interestingly, Luke mentions in particular two groups of people who came to John the Baptist for spiritual advice: tax collectors and Roman (some even Jewish) soldiers.  Both groups were regarded as “dangerous” by the Jewish authorities – – and society as whole.  They were treated as outcasts among both the Jews and the Romans.

John, in his instructions, is saying we must do six seemingly simple, but rather complex, things in order to have a true conversion of heart, body, and soul:

  • ·        SHARE what we have with others: wealth and food;
  • ·        STOP  doing wrong: don’t cheat, extort, or make false accusations;
  • ·        BE SATISFIED with what you have; 
  • ·        BE CHARITABLE;
  • ·        BE JUST; and,
  • ·        BE HONEST.

John does NOT tell them to adopt his desert way of life. He does NOT tell them to make sacrificial offerings or wear sackcloth and ashes.  John the Baptist doesn’t try to purposely upset the existing social order.  However, John DOES call for a real concern for a person’s “neighbor”.LetsBeHonest

The concern for justice is a hallmark of Luke’s Gospel and for John the Baptist.  John tells the soldiers to make no false arrests, to be content with their pay, not to take bribes, and not to bully anyone.  When talking to the tax collector, he knew that they were outcasts among the Jewish people, though Jewish themselves.  John knew they were detested as “traitors” by the Jewish people and as nothing more than “robbers” approved by the Roman Government.  As for as the Roman government was concerned, if the tax collectors wanted to collect a little bit more than the government required, that was fine with them.  They could keep the extra money for themselves; all the Roman government was concerned about was getting their tax money!!  

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John obviously knew how to get his message across to these groups of people.  Through his divinely-inspired words – – and witness – – to God the Father and to others around him:

The people were filled with expectation, and all were asking in their hearts whether John might be the Messiah (Luke 3:15).

The people recognized John as an extraordinary man of God and a prophet for their times.  John broke the prophetic silence of the pJohn_the_Baptist%20imagerevious centuries when he began to speak the “Word” of God.  His message was similar to the message from the earlier Jewish prophets who scolded the people of God for their unfaithfulness and who cried out BOLDLY to awaken true repentance within them.  

John proclaims his water baptism of his followers to be clearly in immediate preparation for the coming of the actual, true Messiah.  John the Baptist knows his place and role in God’s plan of salvation.  He announces to the crowds his messianic preaching (3) (relating to the Messiah instituting of the promised golden age of peace, truth, and happiness), the coming of the “ONE” mightier than he:e0274

John answered them all, saying, ‘I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming.  I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals.  He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fireHis winnowing fan is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.’  Exhorting them in many other ways, he preached good news to the people” (Luke 3:16–18).

When John the Baptist talks about someone coming who is “mightier and more powerful than he”, John is ultimately speaking NOT of the “earthly” Jesus (though he may not have realized this fact), but the Risen Christ, third_advent_cgrwho baptizes us with the Holy Spirit in a very personal and intimate way.  When John says “He [the Messiah] will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Luke 3:16), he is contrasting his prophetic baptism – – just with water – – to Jesus’ additional messianic baptizing with both the Holy Spirit and with the Holy Spirit’s “refining fire”.   When this Gospel was written decades after the Pentecost event, the early Christian community’s point of view understood,  “the Holy Spirit and fire” to be seen in light of the “fire symbolism” found in the “pouring out of the Holy Spirit” at Pentecost:

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” (Acts 2:1–4).

Jesus’ “baptism with the Holy Spirit and fire” fulfilled John’s “water baptism” mission on earth.  Jesus’ baptism will also be accomplished by an “immersion”, an immersion of the repentant in water, and in the cleansing power of the Spirit of God.  There will also be an immersion the unrepentant in the destroying power of God’s wrath and judgment of them!! 

John’s preaching of the “Holy Spirit and fire” is revealed in, and related to, the purifying and refining characteristics found in Jewish Scripture (our Old Testament):  First, from Ezekiel – –

“I will sprinkle clean water over you to make you clean; from all your impurities and from all your idols I will cleanse you.  I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you.  I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of fleshI will put my spirit within you so that you walk in my statutes, observe my ordinances, and keep them” (Ezekiel 36:25–27);

Now, from Malachi – – refiners-fire-c

“Who can endure the day of His coming?  Who can stand firm when He appears?  For He will be like a refiner’s fire, like fullers’ lyeHe will sit refining and purifying silver, and He will purify the Levites, Refining them like gold or silver, that they may bring offerings to the LORD in righteousness” (Malachi 3:2–3).

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John the Baptist goes on to describe the actions of the coming Messiah Savior in terms this “well entrenched urban city” boy just cannot understand:

“His winnowing fan is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire” (Luke 3:17).

Iwinnowing_fork_2 am pretty certain I know what wheat is, but a “winnowing fan” (?), “threshing floor” (?), and “chaff” (?) – – what the heck are these??!!  I definitely had to  research these items, and the why and how they are related to the actions of the coming Messiah Savior.

A “winnowing fan” was a forklike shovel with which the “threshed” (separated) wheat was thrown into the air.  The wheat kernels fell to the ground – – to the “threshing floor” to be picked up later – – while the light “chaff” (the dry covering bracts [modified leafs] of grains being separated by the process of threshing) were “blown off” by the wind, gathered later, and then burned in a nearby fire.

Fire” in Old Testament times was associated with God and with His purifying action in the world, His cleansing actions in the lives of His people.  God sometimes manifested His presence by use of fire, such as in the example in the story of the “burning bush” burning_bushwhich was not consumed when God spoke to Moses:

“The angel of the LORD appeared to him as fire flaming out of a bush.  When he looked, although the bush was on fire, it was not being consumed (Exodus 3:2). 

John, in describing the procedure by which a farmer separates wheat and chaff, is using the image as a comparison for what will happen to the “good” and the “bad” in this world by God when He returns with His judgmental and saving actions in the person of the RISEN CHRIST!

In the New Testament, the image of fire is also used with regard to the Holy Spirit, who comes to cleanse us from sin and to make utongues-of-fires holy:

 “Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them” (Acts 2:3).

God’s fire purifies and refines.  This refining purification, through baptism, confirmation, and the Sacrament of Reconciliation, also increases our desire for holiness and for the joy of meeting the Lord when He comes again.  Our baptism in Jesus Christ by water and the Holy Spirit results in a “new birth” and entry into God’s kingdom as His beloved sons and daughters:

Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit” (John 3:5). 

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John the Baptist ends his preaching in today’s Gospel with a message of hope:

Exhorting them in many other ways, he preached good news to the people” (Luke 3:18)

For me, God’s “Word” ALWAYS offers hope, even in the most dismal of circumstances characters in the bible seem to get into.  After all, they enter those bad circumstances, usually, not because of God Himself, but because of them turning their backs on BIBLEHim!!  God was (and is) always with them, even in the BAD times; they just did not believe in his “word”, nor could they realize His presence!  So, read the Bible, re-read the Bible with YOU as the character in these stories, and then re-re-read the Bible so that you realize that the 73 books which make up this great “Bible” (in the Catholic edition) are truly “instructions” on how to live as a Catholic Christian and an honorable son or daughter of God in the world!!

The third Sunday of Advent is also called “Gaudete Sunday”.  “Gaudete”, a Latin word – – meaning “rejoicthCA2A51IGe”, with its form being a “command” – – is another way of exhorting hope.  This command to rejoice is taken from the entrance antiphon for Sunday’s Mass, which is also echoed in today’s second reading from the Paul’s letter to the Philippians:

Rejoice in the Lord always.  I shall say it again: rejoice!  Your kindness should be known to all.  The Lord is near.  Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God (Philippians 4:4-6).

The Catholic Church obeys this command by lighting a pink candle instead of another purple one already on the Advent wreath.  In doing so, it is a reminder that the Advent season is a “Season of JOY” and “Re-Joy-Sing” [rejoicing] because our salvation is truly already at hand.

John the Baptist’s message of “good news” inspired many to believe God was about to do extraordinary things in their midst.  John the Baptist’s task – – his mission – – was simply to awaken the interest of his people to God’s “Word”, unsettle them from their complacency, and arouse in them enough “good will” to recognize and receive the Messiah when He appearance on the scene.

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. summarize titleToday, Luke is continuing to set up two important themes of his Gospel message: (1) the Christian faith is expressed in one’s actions, and (2) the call to salvation is extended to everyone, Jews and Gentiles alike.

John the Baptist knows his place and role in God’s redemptive plan of salvation.  John’s teaching to the crowd suggests that each person has a role to play in God’s salvation.  He is encouraging them to follow his model of faith and hope in their own personal Horizontal_Logo9life’s positions and status.  It is our personal, human cooperation in His divine plans that is THE great mystery of God’s initiative to empower and to encourage each of us to participate – – through our believing and rejoicing – – in His plan.

John the Baptist basically called the people to turn back to God and to walk in His way of love and righteousness.  Whenever the Gospel is proclaimed it has the power to awaken the faith in people, thepathofsinandrighteousnessand to change their lives for good.  John’s baptism was for repentance; a turning away from sin and taking on a new way of life according to God’s “Word”.  

Hmm, my life has its own temptations, and its own opportunities to take advantage of others, using them for my own personal gain.  Does yours?  As I prepare for the coming of Jesus Christ at Christmas, I will consider my own life situation, my own temperament, and my own personality in heeding John the Baptist’s words from today’s reading.  I believe I may need to make some adjustments.  How ‘bout you?

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. conclusionThe theme of the season for Advent is sometimes described as “a period of waiting for the birth of Jesus Christ”.  However, today’s Gospel reading suggests something much different.  John the Baptist did not tell the crowds to wait for the Messiah.  Instead, he told them to prepare for the Messiah through acts of repentance.  If RepentBelieveTheGoodNewsBwAdvent is a time of waiting, it is not the “sitting in waiting room or office lobby” kind of waiting.  It is a busy time of preparation, more like the waiting we might do when “preparing for dinner guests”.  Our challenge as Catholic Christians is NOT to make this season a frantic, disordered, and/or apathetic time, but rather a time of “joyful anticipation”, making ready for God who comes to dwell among (and in) us, changing our lives with His gift (grace) of redemptive salvation.

Think about the preparations you are making during this season of Advent period.  Reflect on these activitiechanges, not only on what you are doing but WHY you are “choosing” to do these things.  Remember, Advent is a time for making ourselves ready to receive Jesus Christ – – anew and more – – in our personal lives.  Could you make some changes in your Advent activities so that you are MORE prepared to celebrate the gift of salvation at Christmas?  Hmm, I think I can for sure.  Pray that you, and your family and friends, will be able to live the “spirit” of Advent as it should be, and not as a secular time of the year.  Heck, why not sing an Advent song, such as “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” as you light the third candle on your Advent wreath this evening at dinner.  I will, and I’ll possibly report on the interesting looks I receive from my family members who ALL say I have a voice made for paper!!

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R. prayer sfeflection Prayer: 

An Advent Prayer

 

“Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, ever faithful to your promises and ever close to your Chuprayerrch: the earth rejoices in hope of the Savior’s coming and looks forward with longing to His return at the end of time.  Prepare our hearts and remove the sadness that hinders us from feeling the joy and hope which His presence will bestow, for he is Lord for ever and ever.  Amen.”

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♫”Oh, Johnny Boy, the Holy Spirit Is Calling You!”♫ – Mark 1:1-8†


    

 

Second Week of Advent

 

 Today’s Content: 

  • Dan’s Deliberations, Discoveries, & Declarations
  • Today in Catholic History
  • Quote of the Day
  • Today’s Gospel Reading
  • Gospel Reflection
  • Reflection Prayer
  • New Translation of the Mass
  • Franciscan Formation Reflection
  • Reflection on part of  the SFO Rule 

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 Dan’s Deliberations, Discoveries, & Declarations: 

Do not forget that “St. Nick’s day” is this week (Tuesday, December 6th).  In many places of the world, it is St. Nicholas (and not Santa) who is the main gift giver.  Put out your children’s shoes and they find treats of small gifts, fruit or nuts, and special Nicholas candies and cookies. Remember though, St. Nicholas gifts are meant to be shared, not hoarded for oneself.

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My wife’s surgery (foot surgery) went well, and she is cooperating.  Hopefully, she will be back at work within a few weeks.  Thank you for all the prayers.

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 Today in Catholic History:

†   1075 – Death of Archbishop Anno II of Cologne
†   1110 – First Crusade: The Crusaders conquer Sidon.
†   1259 – Kings Louis IX of France (A Third Order Fransican and Patron Saint of the SFO Order) and Henry III of England agree to the Treaty of Paris, in which Henry renounces his claims to French-controlled territory on continental Europe (including Normandy) in exchange for Louis withdrawing his support for English rebels.
†   1334 – Death of Pope John XXII (b. 1249)
†   1443 – Birth of Pope Julius II, (1503-13), patron of Michelangelo, Bramante, and Raphael
†   1563 – The final session of the Council of Trent is held (it opened on December 13, 1545).
†   1674 – Father Jacques Marquette founds a mission on the shores of Lake Michigan to minister to the Illiniwek (the mission would later grow into the city of Chicago, Illinois).
†   1786 – Birth of John LA Luyten, Catholic Member of Dutch 2nd parliament [or 12/14]
†   1963 – Pope Paul VI closes 2nd session of 2nd Vatican Council †   1997 – Death of David Abell Wood, priest, at age 72 Memorials Feasts: Saint John of Damascus; the Great Martyr Saint Barbara, St. Ada (feast day)

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

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Quote or Joke of the Day:

 

“’Baptism in the Holy Spirit’ is an action of the risen Savior.  The Holy Spirit reveals to the spirit of the believer the true reality, majesty and saving power of the Son of God.  We are enabled to surrender our lives in a deeper way to God’s saving work.  We are empowered by the Holy Spirit to die to sin and live to God.” ~ Fr. Francis Martin, “The Life Changer”, St. Bede’s Publications

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Today’s reflection is about John the Baptist preaching repentance and baptizing people, in preparation for the “One” who would baptize with the Holy Spirit.

 

(NAB Mark 1:1-8) 1 The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ [the Son of God].  2a As it is written in Isaiah the prophet: “Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you; he will prepare your way.  3 A voice of one crying out in the desert: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.’”  4 John [the] Baptist appeared in the desert proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  5 People of the whole Judean countryside and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River as they acknowledged their sins.  6 John was clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist. He fed on locusts and wild honey.  7 And this is what he proclaimed: “One mightier than I is coming after me.  I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals.  8 I have baptized you with water; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

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Gospel Reflection:

 

Last Sunday’s Gospel was taken from the end of Mark.  Today’s Gospel is taken from the beginning of Mark.  Unlike Luke and Matthew, Mark does not include any details of Jesus’ birth.  Instead, he begins with Jesus at the beginning of His public ministry, and with the appearance of John the Baptist in the desert wilderness.  We are invited today to reflect upon the role of this last great prophet, John the Baptist, who ‘prepared the way’ for Jesus and for the Salvation that Jesus Christ would bring to us then, now, and in the future.

Many scholars believe that the Gospels reflect the personal and group tensions that likely existed between the followers of John the Baptist and the disciples of Jesus Christ.  Each of the four Evangelists report on John’s preaching and baptizing, and each also emphasizes the importance of Jesus’ baptism by John.  The four Gospels go on explain that John the Baptist was sent to preach in preparation for another.  

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Holy Scripture tells us that John (the Baptist) was filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb:

He [John the Baptist] will be great in the sight of [the] Lord.  He will drink neither wine nor strong drink.  He will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb.”  (Luke 1:15).

When the Blessed Virgin Mary visited her cousin Elizabeth, the son in her womb, John, leapt in her womb as they were both “filled” with the Holy Spirit:

When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit.” (Luke 1:41).

The passion and fervor of the Holy Spirit dwelt in John, and made him the forerunner of the coming Messiah and Savior.  John was divinely led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness – – prior to his “prophetic” ministry, – – where he himself was tested and grew in the “Word” of God.  

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Although Mark attributes Jesus’ prophecy to Isaiah, the text is a combination of several passages from several books of Holy Scripture:

See, I am sending an angel before you, to guard you on the way and bring you to the place I have prepared.” (Exodus 23:20);

 “A voice proclaims: In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD!  Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God!” (Isaiah 40:3);

 “Now I am sending my messengerhe will prepare the way before me; and the lord whom you seek will come suddenly to his temple; the messenger of the covenant whom you desire — see, he is coming! says the LORD of hosts. (Malachi 3:1);

“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.’” (Matthew 11:10);

And,

“This is the one about whom scripture says: ‘Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, he will prepare your way before you.’” (Luke 7:27).  

John the Baptist’s ministry is seen, and presented in this reading as God’s prelude to the saving mission of God the Fathers “Son”.  John the Baptist’s life was fueled by one burning passion — to point others to Jesus Christ and to the coming of His kingdom.

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John broke the prophetic silence of several centuries when he began to speak the “Word” of God to the people of Israel.  His message was similar to the message of the Old Testament prophets who also reproached the “chosen people” of God for their unfaithfulness and who also tried to awaken true repentance in them.  

Among the Jewish people – – who became unconcerned with the things of God, – – it was John’s work and mission to awaken their interest, to unsettle them from their complacency, and to arouse in them enough “good will” to recognize and receive Christ when He came.  

Why did Jesus say John the Baptist was more than a prophet as reported in Luke’s Gospel:

Then what did you go out to see?  A prophet?  Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet.” (Luke 7:26)?

He was more than a prophet; he was the “voice” making straight the “way of the Lord”.  John the Baptist became “the voice” who is coming:

 “He [John the Baptist] said: ‘I am ‘the voice of one crying out in the desert, “Make straight the way of the Lord,”’ as Isaiah the prophet said.” (John 1:23).

 And what exactly did the prophet Isaiah say about this “voice” of the “one crying out in the desert”:

“Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God.  Speak to the heart of Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her service has ended, that her guilt is expiated, that she has received from the hand of the LORD double for all her sins.  A voice proclaims: In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD! Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God!” (Isaiah 40:1-3).

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Can you picture a man “clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist” (verse 6).  Was he thought of as a “wild” man, with “crazy” ideas, OR, was he looked at as the prophesized “prophet”?  Remember, he did have a large following, and was watched, with “some concern”, from religious and political figures of the area.  They all knew the Old Testament prophesies of Isaiah.  John the Baptist’s clothes and dietary habits recalled that of the prophet “Elijah” from the Old Testament:

They replied, ‘He wore a hairy garment with a leather belt around his waist.’  ‘It is Elijah the Tishbite!’ he exclaimed.” (2 Kings 1:8).

Jesus Christ Himself even speaks of John the Baptist as the “Elijah” who has already come:

 “Then the disciples asked him, ‘Why do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?’  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.’” (Matthew 17:1012);

Then they [Peter, James, and John] asked him, ‘Why do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?’  He told them, ‘Elijah will indeed come first and restore all things, yet how is it written regarding the Son of Man that he must suffer greatly and be treated with contempt?  But I tell you that Elijah has come and they did to him whatever they pleased, as it is written of him.’” (Mark 9:1113);

And,

He will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah to turn the hearts of fathers toward children and the disobedient to the understanding of the righteous, to prepare a people fit for the Lord.” (Luke 1:17).

 

John the Baptist truly completed the cycle of great prophets begun by Elijah:

“All the prophets and the law prophesied up to the time of John.  And if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah, the one who is to come.” (Matt. 11:13-14).

John’s baptismal ministry was for repentance, for turning away from sin, and for taking on a “new way” of life according to God’s “Word”.  Our baptism in, with, and through Jesus Christ – – by flowing water and the Holy Spirit – – results in a “new birth” and a glorious entry into God’s kingdom, as His beloved children:

 “Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.” (John 3:5).

Т

Jesus will create a “new” people of God through the life-giving baptism with the Holy Spirit:

I [John the Baptist] have baptized you with water; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” (Mark 1-8).

However, first Jesus will identify Himself with the “chosen people of Israel” in submitting to John the Baptist’s baptism of repentance:

John [the] Baptist appeared in the desert proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” (Mark 1:4),

AND, in bearing on their (and our) behalf the burden of God the Father’s decisive judgment, was baptized for the “chosen people of Israel”:

It happened in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized in the Jordan by John.” (Mark 1:9).

As in the desert of Sinai at the Exodus, so here, in the wilderness of Judea (at the Jordan River also associated with Elijah and Elisha), Israel’s Son-ship with God the Father is to be “renewed” through the living waters AND Holy Spirit of Jesus’ baptism.

Т

In conclusion, Mark’s description of John the Baptist’s appearance highlights John’s connection and permanence with Jewish prophetic tradition.  Mark, in today’s reading, combines quotations from the Old Testament books of Exodus, Isaiah, and Malachi.  Mark’s description of John the Baptist as an “ascetic”, living in the desert and “clothed in camel hair”, eating “locusts and wild honey”, is reminiscent of the description of the prophet “Elijah” found in the book, “Second Kings”.  The people of Judea and Jerusalem flocked to John the Baptist, longing for and listening to his message of repentance and forgiveness.  Many came to John to be baptized in the Jordan.  Mark’s Gospel is direct and clear; John the Baptist’s role is onlyto prepare the way” for another to come, “one who is greater” than John the Baptist.

In today’s Gospel we hear John the Baptist contrast his baptism of repentance with the baptism that Jesus will inaugurate.  John says that he has baptized with water, but that the “one who is to come will baptize with the Holy Spirit” as well.  John the Baptist’s baptism was not yet a Catholic Christian baptism.  It was a “preparation” for the Sacrament of Baptism through which sins are forgiven and the gift of the Holy Spirit is received.

John the Baptist is presented to us as a model for preparation during Advent.  We, too, in this day and time – – some two millennia later, – – are still called upon to “prepare a way for the Lord”.  Like John the Baptist, we ARE messengers in service to the “One” who is greater than any on earth.  Our Baptism commissions us to call others to life as disciples of Jesus.

Think about ways in which the example of others around you have “called” you to be a follower of Jesus Christ; who have been examples to you of Christian discipleship.  What are the characteristics they posses that you have tried to (or can) emulate?

Jesus is ready to give us the “fire” of His Holy Spirit so that we may “glow with” the light, joy, and truth of His Gospel to a materialistic and secular world, so desperately in need of God’s light, joy, and truth.  Jesus Christ’s “Word” has power to change and transform our lives so that we may be lights pointing others to Him.  Like John the Baptist, we too are called to give testimony to the light, the truth, and the way of Jesus Christ.  The question is: “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 communicate? 

As John the Baptist prepared the way for Jesus Christ, the Sacrament of Baptism “commissions” us to also prepare the way of the Lord.  The grace of the Holy Spirit leads us to continually renew our lives so that we might lead others to Jesus.  Can you identify at least one action that you will take this week to try to be a more faithful follower, a more faithful disciple, of Jesus?  Pray that God will receive this action you have just identified, and use it to lead others to his Son.

The season of Advent invites us to renew our lives in preparation for the coming of Jesus Christ.  Some of the first-century people who heard the message of John the Baptist repented for their sins and were then baptized.  In the Sacrament of Baptism, our sins are truly forgiven, and we also receive the grace (the gift) of the Holy Spirit who helps us in our life of discipleship.  Led by the Holy Spirit, we should use this Advent season time to renew our lives in “preparing the way” for Jesus.

ТТТ

 

Reflection Prayer:

 

Prayer to the Holy Spirit

 

“Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful. And kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created. And you will renew the face of the earth.

Lord, by the light of the Holy Spirit you have taught the hearts of your faithful. In the same Spirit help us to relish what is right and always rejoice in your consolation. We ask this through Christ our Lord.  Amen.” 

ТТТ

 

 Catholic Apologetics:

 

The Roman Catholic Church bases her teaching upon one source: The “WORD” of God.  This revelation is communicated to us in two divine ways: Holy Scripture and apostolic “Tradition”.  Many people (including most Protestants) believe in only the writings found in the bible are the word of God.  However, Oral transmission of the faith is also the word of God as Peter reported:

“And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.” (cf., 1 Thessalonians. 2:13) RSV

“For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe. (cf., 1 Thessalonians. 2:13) KJV

My reason and purpose for this section on my blog is not to cause dissention or opposition with my fellow believers in Jesus Christ, yet not in union with the Roman Catholic Church.  Instead, it is to provide “scriptural confirmation” for our beliefs and doctrines.  Whether God speaks to us through the “Bible”, or through the “Tradition”, the “Word” is truly inspired from the Holy Spirit.

All Scriptural verses are taken from both the Revised Standard Version: Catholic Edition of the Holy Bible, and the King James Version of the Holy Bible.

 

Tradition Found in Holy Scripture, Part 1

 

“I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I have delivered them to you (1 Corinthians. 11:2).  RSV

“Now I praise you, brethren, that ye remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances, as I delivered them to you. (1 Corinthians. 11:2).  KJV

 

“Follow the pattern of the sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus; guard the truth that has been entrusted to you by the Holy Spirit who dwells within us(2 Timothy. 1:13-14).  RSV

“Hold fast the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus.  That good thing which was committed unto thee keep by the Holy Ghost which dwelleth in us.” (2 Timothy. 1:13-14).  KJV

 

“So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter.” (2 Thessalonians. 2:15)  RSV

“Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle.” (2 Thessalonians. 2:15)  KJV

Information from
“Catholic Answers” Website
www.catholic.com

ТТТ

 Franciscan Formation Reflection:

 

Virtues and Vices

Where can you find the virtues in the SFO Rule?

How would you paraphrase what Saint Francis thought about each of the virtues? (Hint: All the Cardinal and Theological virtues can be found in the Catechism, paragraphs 1804-1829)

How have you been living the virtues?

ТТТ

 

Secular Franciscan Order (SFO) Rule
Article #’s 4 & 5 of 26:

04.  The rule and life of the Secular Franciscans is this: to observe the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ by following the example of St. Francis of Assisi who made Christ the inspiration and the center of his life with God and people.

Christ, the gift of the Father’s love, is the way to him, the truth into which the Holy Spirit leads us, and the life which he has come to give abundantly.

Secular Franciscans should devote themselves especially to careful reading of the gospel, going from gospel to life and life to gospel.

Т

05.  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.

“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.