from Immersed in Christ
First Sunday of Advent
Appreciating and Accepting Jesus as “Son of David” — the fulfillment of all God’s promises
Where do I seek my fulfillment in life? What am I focused on? What do I think about, dream about, most often? What do I think God can or will do for me? Is it what he really promised? (This is not just our question; Jesus asks this of every person on earth. See John 1:38).
The Entrance Antiphon puts words in our mouth that invite us to ask if they are really in our hearts: “To you, my God, I lift up my soul… No one who waits for you is ever put to shame (or disappointed).” How often do I really “lift up my soul” to God?
In the Opening Prayer we ask God to “increase our strength of will” – that is, motivate us — so that “Christ may find an eager welcome” in our hearts. But what do we ask God to motivate us to do? It is to “lift up our hearts” in longing for Christ, in expectation that Jesus will open to us the way to fulfillment in life, the way to happiness on this earth as well as in heaven. (Before the Preface we will be invited again: “Lift up your hearts!” and we will answer, “We lift them up to the Lord”).
What does it mean to “lift up our hearts”? The Alternate Opening Prayer tells us. It means to tell God consciously that “our hearts desire the warmth of your love.” Telling God this makes us aware of it.
We also need to tell him, “Our minds are searching for the light of your Word.” We have to realize that this is what our minds really are searching for.
Whether we are conscious of it or not, our minds are constantly scanning all of reality, monitoring all our experiences, looking for something to settle on: a truth to rest in, a goal that promises satisfaction, a desire that fills the soul.
St. Augustine said: “Our hearts are restless, O God, and they shall not rest until they rest in Thee!” If we know this consciously, and explicitly affirm it in our minds, it will “increase our longing for Christ our Savior.” We will have a clear picture of fulfillment to focus on. (The answer the human heart spontaneously gives when Jesus asks, “What are you looking for?” is “Where does God dwell?” See John 1:38).
There is hope:
Isaiah 2:1-5 announces that our desires, our longings to be filled and satisfied by God, are not just hopeless illusions. God promises to come “pitch his tent” among us, to take up residence on earth in a place where we can find him.
The “Lord’s house” shall be established on the mountain top, where everyone can see it. And “all nations shall stream toward it.” Now, to those who ask, “Lord, where do you dwell?” he answers, “Come and see” (see John 1:38-39).
Why do we come to church? What are we looking for on Sunday mornings? Isaiah tells us we come because our hearts within us are saying, “Come, let us climb the Lord’s mountain, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may instruct us in his ways and we may walk in his paths.”
If we learn God’s ways and walk in his paths, it is not just interior satisfaction and personal peace that we will experience. We will also find hope that there can be peace in the world, “peace on earth.”
We will find reason to hope that the divisions and violence in our world can be replaced by unity and love. In the measure that all nations begin to “walk in the light of the Lord,” people will begin to “beat their swords into ploughshares.” The senseless outpouring of national resources into the “arms race,” the production of weapons of mass destruction, will stop. Nor will we “train for war again.” Instead of living in fear and preoccupation with “national security,” we will “go rejoicing to the house of the Lord” (Responsorial Psalm). There will be “peace within our walls, prosperity in our buildings.” When we have chosen to be “brothers and sisters and friends” to all people, the Lord will say, “Peace be within you.”
Matthew 24:37-44 is a wake-up call. It may be that, like ordinary people in our culture, we have been caught up in “eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage,” earning a living, taking care of our physical fitness, keeping the house clean, getting the car repaired, shopping, paying bills, getting the kids off to school and driving them to doctors’ appointments and sporting events, coping with a boss or with customers, and just trying to find a little relaxation at the end of the day.
But in the Gospel Jesus calls us to lift up our heads as well as our hearts; not to be buried and blinded by details. Jesus calls us to keep our faces above water, to look around, to be aware of the larger picture, to think about where we are going, what we are looking for in life, how it is all going to end.
God is out there also. But God doesn’t just stay “out there.” He comes to us constantly. He comes to us repeatedly, “at an hour you do not expect,” with inspirations and invitations, with enlightenment and encouragement. If we expect to recognize and respond to God when he comes to us at the hour of death, we need to recognize him and respond to him when he comes to us every day. “Therefore, stay awake! For you do not know on which day [or at which moment of every day] your Lord will come.”
This is what Advent is all about. It is a time to shake ourselves free from encumbering preoccupations, to look around and to look up. It is a time to take stock, to look within our hearts and see what we find there: what desires, what longings, what faith and hope in their fulfillment. It is a time to look intently at the promises of God. It is a time to respond to love with love. It is a time to think about time.
If we act:
Romans 13:11-14 summons us to act in response to God’s message of hope. “It is the hour now for you to awake from sleep!” With a motivation born of new hope we will find the “strength of will” to “throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.”
If we have learned to “lift up our hearts to the Lord,” and to seek our true joy in “the warmth of his love” and “the light of his Word,” our driving desire will be to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ.” This is to seek fulfillment where it can be found.
Our goal will be union with Jesus, identification with him as his own body on earth, as sharers in his divine life. We will hear the goal, the focus, and the promise of our existence in the words of the Greeting at Mass: “May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ (the favor of sharing in God’s own life), and the love of God, and fellowship (communion) in the Holy Spirit be with you all!”
What we will focus on now in our work, our social life, our personal development; what we will think about and dream about most often, will be to grow into a greater experience of divine life, into a deeper experience of love, into an all-embracing communion of mind and will and heart with God and with all people in the “fellowship of the Holy Spirit.”
We will be more attuned to the voice of our own hearts crying, “Come, let us climb the Lord’s mountain, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may instruct us in his ways and we may walk in his paths.” This is the path to fulfillment.
Insight: Do I really believe that by interacting with Jesus, I can find more fulfillment in my home life? Social life? School or professional life? What would this change?
Initiative: How can I — no, how will I — use the time of Advent to make all my time on earth more fulfilling? (This is the time for some concrete choices!)
November 28, 2016
MONDAY, first week in Advent
We Do Not Have To Live Lives Of Mediocre Joy — If We Interact With Jesus
The Responsorial Psalm is a key to the readings: “Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord” (Psalm 122).
We rejoice because Isaiah 4:2-6 tells us that through the gift of Jesus “the branch of the Lord shall be beautiful and glorious…. and whoever… remains in Jerusalem will be called holy.” The Church may be going through difficult days. The world may be torn by divisions and conflict. But those who attach themselves to Jesus Christ will find joy in life, even in the midst of suffering, and arrive at the fulfillment Jesus promises: “life to the full” (John 10:10). Nothing can prevent this. Nothing can take it away from us so long as we remain “in Christ,” interacting with him in his Church, the New Jerusalem, who is being “prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Revelation 21:2). This is a promise: God’s promise of fulfillment through Jesus Christ.
But we have to “go… to the house of the Lord.” In Matthew 8:5-11 the centurion had to approach Jesus. Jesus healed his servant only after the centurion interacted with him. We need to ask for Jesus’ help and also interact with him in every area of our lives in order to bring that area of our lives to fulfillment.
Isn’t it true that for most of us there are areas of life in which we feel unfulfilled— not because we aren’t doing what we should, and doing it fairly successfully, but because something is lacking; something is leaving us unsatisfied?
It may be that our own faults or the faults of others keep us from being as happy as we want. Perhaps something in us is “lying… paralyzed,” or even “in terrible distress.” Or it may be just that, on a level deeper than ordinary human interaction and higher than normal human expectations, our hearts may be feeling a call, a longing for something more, for evidence of a divine dimension, for assurance that there is eternal value in what we do.
This is where we are asked to believe in Jesus as the “Son of David” who brings all of God’s promises to fulfillment. We do not have to live lives of mediocre joy. If we give Jesus an active part in all we do, we can find joy and fulfillment in everything, regardless of what others do. And we may even be able to bring others to a higher level of response if we let Jesus as Savior act with us, act in us, act through us. This is something to believe in and to strive for during Advent. “Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord.”
Initiative: If you seek fulfillment, seek it where it can be found. Interact with Jesus. Before every action say, “Lord, do this with me, do this in me, do this through me” (memory aid: WIT).
November 29, 2016
TUESDAY, first week in Advent
Through Jesus We Can Know God. This Is The Renewal Of The World.
The Responsorial gives us the assurance and source of fulfillment: “Justice shall flourish in his time, and fullness of peace forever” (Psalm 72).
Isaiah 11:1-10 tells us justice shall flourish because “A shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse [Jesus’ ancestor]…. The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him. He shall judge the poor with justice, and decide aright for the land’s afflicted. There shall be no harm or ruin on all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be filled with knowledge of the Lord as water covers the sea.”
The root and beginning of all justice and peace, all renewal of Church, government and society, is the knowledge of Jesus: his knowledge shared with us, our intimate knowledge of him as a person, our knowledge and acceptance of his knowledge as Light of the world. If we want our lives to have meaning and value on earth, we have to begin with this: getting to know Jesus, understanding his mind and heart.
Jesus said all fulfillment consists in this: “This is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3).
Luke 10: 21-24 tells us that only through Jesus can we know the Father as he is, and only through the Holy Spirit can we truly know Jesus: “No one knows the Son except the Father and no one knows the Father except the Son — and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him.” But because we have become “sons and daughters in the Son” by Baptism, true children of God, we can know the Father as the Son does: “God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba! Father!” (Galatians 4:6). Through the actions of the Word of God made flesh, through the words of God recorded in Scripture, and through the Spirit poured out in our hearts, we can know God. In this knowledge is our fulfillment and the renewal of the world.
We don’t have to be super-smart or super-educated to know God. What is “hidden from the wise and the intelligent” God reveals even to little children — and to all who come to him with the openness of children. We just have to come to him.
Advent is an invitation to do this so that “Justice shall flourish in our time, and fullness of peace forever.”
Initiative: If you seek fulfillment, seek it where it can be found. Know Jesus. Set aside some time to commune with Jesus. Choose a time of day and a place where you can be quiet and peaceful. Read his words; ask yourself what they tell you about the mind and heart of God, what meaning they have for your life, how you can live them out in practice. Let yourself be “filled with knowledge of the Lord as water covers the sea.” This is the path to fulfillment.
November 30, 2016
WEDNESDAY, first week in Advent
Fulfillment Is On The Table
The Responsorial Psalm tells us where to look for fulfillment: “I shall live in the house of the Lord all my life” (Psalm 23).
We grow to fulfillment by being with Jesus. And this is only possible because he came to be with us: “The Word became flesh and lived among us [literally, “pitched his tent among us”], and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).
Isaiah 25: 6-10 tells us: “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food…. This is the Lord for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation. For the hand of the Lord will rest on this mountain.”
In Matthew 15: 29-37 Jesus does what was promised: He “went up the mountain…. Great crowds came to him… the lame, the maimed, the blind, the mute, and many others…. and he cured them… Then Jesus said, ‘I have compassion for the crowd…. I do not want to send them away hungry….’ ”
So the disciples canvassed the crowd and came up with seven loaves of bread “and a few small fish,” which Jesus “took… and after giving thanks he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds.” And all were filled.”
Any Christian would recognize this formula as the words of consecration repeated in every Mass: Jesus “took bread, gave thanks, broke the bread and gave it to his disciples, saying….” The bread Jesus gives is his own flesh and blood, the living bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.
Jesus’ promise is: “Whoever eats of this bread will live forever. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. The bread that I will give is my flesh, for the life of the world” (see John 6:33-51).
Where Jesus is, the table is set. If we eat the Bread of life we will be filled. The Church is the “mountain on which the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food.” Jesus is the feast. He is our fulfillment and our joy. With him “we shall live in the house of the Lord all our life” both now and forever.
Initiative: If you seek fulfillment, seek it where it can be found. Receive Jesus. Every time you receive Communion (try for daily!), be aware of the mystery of the “Word made flesh” extended and given to us in the mystery of the “flesh under the appearances of bread.” Be conscious that in Communion your body is the “house of the Lord,” holding all you need for total fulfillment, eternal joy. With Jesus you “shall live in the house of the Lord all your life.” This is total fulfillment.
December 1, 2016
THURSDAY, first week in Advent
A Rock To Build On
The Responsorial Psalm points to our fulfillment: “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Psalm 118).
He who comes in the name of the Lord is Jesus. Isaiah 26: 1-6 tells us that if the Lord is in our midst we have “a strong city.” We can “trust in the Lord forever, for in the Lord God we have an everlasting rock.” But we have to open our hearts to him, If we do, then the gates to peace will be open to us: “Open up the gates to let in a nation that is just, one that keeps faith. A nation of firm purpose you keep in peace; in peace for its trust is in you.”
Jesus came as the promised “Son of David” to fulfill all of God’s promises (see 2Samuel 7: 11-17). But he does not do this unilaterally, by a divine act of magic. God chooses to make the work of salvation depend on human response, human cooperation (see the invitation to Mary, Luke 1:26-38). The grace to cooperate is given to us, but we must use it.
Matthew 7: 21-27 tells us it is not those who just cry out, “Lord, Lord!” who will enter the kingdom of God, but only those who do the will of the Father. It is true that “in the Lord God we have an everlasting rock,” but this does us no good unless we build on it. “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock.” But those who do not base their lives on Christ’s words, those who do not act on them, “will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand.”
Jesus came to fulfill all of God’s promises to the human race, to offer us total, all-satisfying fulfillment in this life and the next. But to be fulfilled by Jesus we must fill ourselves with his words: read them, reflect on them, accept them as true and build our life on them. We have to let his words be made flesh in us in action.
Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life” (John 14:6). He is the fullness of life for us, but only if we fully accept his truth and faithfully try, at least, to follow his way. If we intend to receive him into our daily lives, to make him welcome, to give him an active part in everything we do — in our home and school and social life, our business and politics — then we can say with true joy and celebration: “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
Initiative: If you seek fulfillment, seek it where it can be found. Respond to Jesus. During Advent, try to make at least one decision a day based explicitly and consciously on God’s word. (For this you need to read or recall it and reflect on it).
December 2, 2016
FRIDAY, first week in Advent:
Listen To The Light
The Responsorial Psalm gives us the guiding light to fulfillment: “The Lord is my light and my salvation!” (Psalm 27).
Isaiah 29: 17-24 tells us that the Lord leads us “out of gloom and darkness” and into fulfillment by making the deaf hear and the blind see. Then “those who err in spirit will come to understanding, and those who find fault will accept instruction.”
We are gloomy and we gripe because we don’t feel fulfilled. Life is frustrating because we are off course and society is off course. And there seems to be no remedy for it. But there is. There is light at the end of the tunnel.
Matthew 9:27-31 tells us Jesus is the remedy. Two men came to him who were blind. They weren’t just walking around with their eyes closed or looking in the wrong place. They were blind. They could not see. And Jesus healed them.
If we think we are hopelessly confused — or our society is — we are not really hoping in Jesus. He came to be the Light of the world. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” He is “the true light, which enlightens everyone” (John 1: 4-14). The light is here. It is available. If we come to Jesus he can enlighten us. If we just walk in his light we will get to where we really want to go.
But first we have to believe that Jesus really can enlighten us. He asked the two blind men, “Are you confident I can do this?” We have to ask ourselves whether we really do have confidence in him. If we don’t, we will listen bored to Christ’s words read at Mass and look at the example of his life without real attention. We won’t be listening to what we hear or really looking at what we see. We won’t have hope.
“The Lord is our light and our salvation!” If we let him be our light we will experience that he is our salvation. But he can’t be one without the other.
Initiative: If you seek fulfillment, seek it where it can be found. Listen to Jesus. The wise men (Magi) followed the light of a star and found Jesus. The shepherds listened to the song of the angels and found Jesus. Am I willing to listen to whatever will help me find him? Will I read Scripture? Will I listen in prayer to the voice of the Holy Spirit in my heart? Will I listen to the teaching of the Church? Am I willing to make a decision now about when, where and how I will do this?
December 3, 2016
SATURDAY, first week in Advent:
Long For What You Ask For
The Responsorial Psalm tells us who will find fulfillment: “Happy are all who long for the coming of the Lord!” (Isaiah 30:18 and Psalm 147).
Why is longing so important?
Isaiah 30: 19-26 tells us it is because the Lord can answer the prayers of those who really want them answered – if they are praying for what is important. “He will be gracious to you when you cry out. As soon as he hears he will answer you.” But we have to “cry out.” God has to hear urgency in our voices.
If we ask for true fulfillment in life — for light to see what we should do and for strength to do it — and really want what we ask for, God can give it to us. But if we don’t really want to be fulfilled — if we just want a halfway satisfying life on earth — then when Jesus offers us “life to the full” we won’t accept it.
If we say we want God’s guidance but really just want him to lead us down a path we have already chosen, then when God writes out the directions for us in Scripture we won’t read them. Then Jesus himself will be unable to guide us into happiness and fulfillment. He won’t be able to answer our prayers. We have to want what we pray for (and we can pray for this too!)
We also have to be willing to accept Jesus’ help, no matter how he gives it.
Matthew 9: 35 to 10:8 tells us that “at the sight of the crowds, Jesus’ heart was moved to pity…because they were like sheep without a shepherd.” He wanted to respond to their need, but knew that alone he could not. So he “summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority to expel unclean spirits, and to cure every sickness and disease.”
Then he sent them out with instructions to do what he was doing: “proclaim the good news…. Cure the sick, raise the dead, heal the lepers, expel demons.” Jesus can, and will fix whatever is wrong with the world. He can do it through his Church, his disciples. But people have to accept them. All the members of his Church have sins. If Jesus wants to help us badly enough to use sinful people, we have to want his help badly enough to accept it from them.
Jesus only sent his disciples to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” If any place was not ready to hear the Good News, the disciples should not announce it there. The Good News is a gift given freely, but it can only be given to those who want to receive it. The Jews had been prepared by centuries of Scripture and God-guided history. It took the death and resurrection of Jesus to open up the rest of the world. What opened me?
“Happy are all who long for the coming of the Lord!” The Lord will come to them! He will come because they long for him.
If you want Jesus to come to you more deeply during the Christmas season, to make himself more real to you, to let you experience “the warmth of his love” and “the light of his Word,” the key to receiving him is desiring him. How badly do you want him? What do you want him for? When did this begin in you?
This is what the season of Advent is for: to focus our hearts on our desires. Advent invites us to ask ourselves what it is we really want out of life.
It is a time to stop following blindly the beaten path of culture; a time to take our bearings, to look up to the heavens and chart a course by the stars — by the “fixed star,” which is Jesus. “To you, my God, I lift up my soul…”
Advent is an invitation to prepare the way of the Lord. Decide how you will do it.
Father in heaven, our hearts desire the warmth of your love and our minds are searching for the light of your Word. Increase our longing for Christ our Savior and give us strength to grow in love, that the dawn of his coming may find us rejoicing in his presence and welcoming the light of his truth. We ask this in the name of Jesus the Lord.
Initiative: If you seek fulfillment, seek it where it can be found. Long for Jesus.
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