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December 7, 2015 | Volume 91 Number 3

COLUMNS

Believe as you Pray »

In Light of Faith »

photo: Genevieve McQuade

believe as you pray

3rd Sunday of Advent
December 13

Zephaniah 3:14-18a
Psalm 12:2-6
Philippians 4:4-7
Luke 3:10-18

There are times in our lives that we practically wring our hands at what to do when confronted with a dilemma. Maybe it’s a serious change, an unforeseen event for which we are not prepared or haven’t a clue how to be ready in the first place.

We don’t know how to respond, bewildered as to what an answer might be. Or maybe, we don’t like the answer. It’s too difficult.

As we celebrate this third Sunday in Advent, our readings show that we are turning away from trepidation over end times, hope, and preparation towards an even greater sense of hope and joyful anticipation for the Savior of the world to be born again within us. How?

With the remembrance of the Savior’s coming and along with our first reading from Zephaniah that tells us that, “the Lord will rejoice over you with gladness, and renew you in his love.”

Rejoicing over us and renewing us are what God will do, but we have our part to fulfill as well.

We can’t be passive when it comes to following the Lord. Having given us gifts and the power to execute them, we humbly receive and respond with gratitude, praise, and joy.

The crowds, tax collectors and the soldiers all asked John the Baptist, “What should we do?” Luke’s gospel records that exact question three times! Those who listened wanted an answer.

Do we seek the same way? We can take a lesson from their desire to eagerly find out more.

Others, the self-righteous ones, had elevated themselves above these ordinary people and the despised. They were not so interested in the Baptist’s answers. The sanctimonious were set in their ways. John told all to share, to be fair and honest, and to not use excessive power over the less fortunate. Make straight the path to the kingdom!

John had the attitude of humility, saying “I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals.” He desired with all his energy to prepare hearts for the One who was to come, Jesus.

For us, now is the time of preparation: to examine our thoughts, desires, motives, and actions; a time to prepare our spirits and souls to receive the greatest gift ever, Jesus Christ himself, in a way greater than ever before.

Now is the time to divest ourselves of selfish attitudes, root out what rules our insensitivities, not be holier-than-thou, and repent. We can make a decision to open up to what God has in mind for each of us, the baptism of the Holy Spirit and fire, helping us to be his needed heralds like John.

As a young child, I remember singing this children’s hymn: “Happy birthday, Jesus! You’re our God we know. See the gift we bring you, our souls as white as snow.”*

We can be reborn in God’s Spirit. We can sparkle with luminescent souls.

Could you possibly be “holier-than-thou?” Or do you echo the crowds, the tax collectors, and the soldiers, asking yourself, “What shall I do?”

No wringing of hands should be needed. You do know what to do. Remember, “The Lord, your God, is in your midst.” (Zeph: 14:16). The Holy Spirit is with you. The Baptist promised.

What gift will you bring to our Lord?

*Composed 65 years ago by Fr. Owen McEnaney from my first parish in the Bronx, St. Helena.

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in light of faith

The Face of Mercy

As we cross the threshold to enter the Year of Mercy, I find myself wondering how it will play out for me personally, for the Catholic Church and for the world at large.

Much speculation has already taken place, some of it grounded in fact; some in wishful thinking.

However, whether the Year of Mercy serves as a gateway to affect changes that are beyond the role of the laity to decide is not the issue, because the Year of Mercy has an individual as well as a collective dimension, which is both spiritual and practical. Unless the practice of mercy becomes visible in our lives as Catholics, the year will come and go and little will have changed.

Taking a lesson from the Letter of James, who reminds us that faith without good works is dead, I believe the same holds true when it comes to mercy.

We cannot claim to be people of faith and not show mercy because mercy is woven through Scripture like thread on a weaver’s loom. From the promise of redemption in the Garden of Eden to the promise of paradise to the good thief on Calvary, the mercy of God is on display.

God’s mercy is evident everywhere, but mercy cannot be solely the action of God.

Jesus said, “Blessed are the merciful for mercy shall be theirs” and he taught us to pray, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

These words contain not only a promise, but a challenge, and if that wasn’t enough, Jesus left his followers the parable of the unjust steward who owed a vast sum of money to his master.

Filled with compassion, the master cancelled the debt of the steward, who in turn went out and tried to extract full payment from a servant who owed him a much smaller amount.

If listening to the parable leads only to a sense of indignation over the behavior of the unjust steward, we have missed the point. Until we understand that the parable is about every one of us, and that we have been and continue to be the ungrateful steward, nothing will change.

We cannot simply remain on the receiving end of God’s mercy and expect to be saved. We must extend that same kind of mercy to others.

God did not have to die a horrible death in order to save us, but in his great mercy, he became one of us so that we might know what mercy looks like. Jesus became the Mercy of God so that we might see the face of God.

He did this when he healed the sick, forgave the woman caught in adultery, and when he called sinners to be his disciples. Before he died, Jesus asked the Father to forgive those who crucified him, because mercy cannot exist outside of forgiveness.

Even after his resurrection, Jesus continued to be the face of mercy. He showed us the face of mercy when he responded to a doubting Thomas by appearing to him and inviting him to touch his wounded hands and side.

After Peter denied the Master and was nowhere to be seen during the crucifixion, Jesus reciprocated by entrusting him with the Keys to the Kingdom as his Vicar on Earth.

As followers of Christ, we are also called to reveal the God of mercy just as Jesus did. Therefore, mercy must be visible in the way we treat not only our family and friends, but also our enemies and the strangers in our midst.

It must be obvious to all that we are people of mercy by the way we speak, and act and dream. The debt that was owed by humankind was paid by God once and for all, but with every privilege comes responsibility, and so we ask: How am I revealing the mercy of God to those who have justly or unjustly wronged me?

If we are truly honest, we will admit that more often than not, we behave like the unjust steward. Lest we remain forever blind to our sins, let us imitate the blind man on the side of the road who cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.”

Today in the face of terrorist activities, rhetoric to close our borders to refugees cries out to God, and so we must decide if our security should come at the expense of those whose plight is far more desperate than ours.

When fear clouds our vision, we do well to look at Mary, the Mother of Mercy. Consider that after Jesus was tried by the state and executed as a common criminal, Mary remained at the foot of the cross. And when it seemed her heart could bear no more, she embraced as mother the very people who were responsible for the death of her son.

As the Year of Mercy stretches before us, we have twelve months to pray over and ponder how we are called to reveal the face of God’s mercy to the world.

And then, we have a lifetime to put it into practice, knowing that at life’s end, each of us will stand before the God of mercy.

Therefore, let us remain ever mindful of the debt we owe lest we appear before the all-merciful Judge looking more like the unjust steward than the God in whose image we have been created.

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