Saint Mary's Press winner for the week of December 5, 2011!
Congratulations to Eileen Schweyer !
Eileen will receive a copy of The Catholic Youth Bible®, a $26.95 value.
The Catholic Youth Bible®
General Editor: Virginia Halbur, MA
The Catholic Youth Bible® will be a true companion, helping you find the answers you seek and helping you make connections to Catholic beliefs and traditions.
Over 700 lively articles help you….
• Pray It! Use the Bible for personal prayer.
• Study It! Understand and make sense of what the Bible says.
• Live It! Apply the Bible to real-life situations you're facing now.
This New Edition Features:
•New 40 expanded "Catholic Connection" articles that provide a more complete presentation of those Catholic teachings that are scripturally based
• New 28 articles that address the seven principles of Catholic social teaching
• New 40 pages of 4-color inserts that help you pray, study, and live the Bible and Catholic teachings
• New Illustrations throughout to provide a visual context for the biblical stories
• New Over 275 articles updated to reflect contemporary issues and biblical scholarship
• Introductions to the major sections of the Bible and all the books of the Bible
• Biblical connections to many different cultures, illustrating the universality of the Catholic Church
• Insights into how the Church has interpreted key Scripture passages throughout history
• A glossary of Scripture-related terms
• Five special indexes; Sunday readings for cycles A, B, and C; 10 color maps; a four-page color timeline; and three pages of full-color biblical art
The Catholic Youth Bible®
ISBN: 978-0-88489-777-4, paper, 1802 pages
Focus on Faith
Advent Reflection from Saint John Baptist de La Salle
Many years ago I heard a homily in which the priest shared a story about asking a group of children what the pink (or rose-colored) Advent candle signified. After a long pause, a child raised his hand and said it meant that there was only one more week to shop for Christmas. As we approach the third Sunday of Advent, it is easy to get caught up in the frenzy of preparing for Christmas. There is shopping to be completed, parties to attend, gifts to wrap, and decorations to put up. For this reason I felt it would be appropriate this week to simply share a reflection from Saint John Baptist de La Salle on the coming Sunday’s Gospel reading. I hope this reflection offers you a few moments of sacred time during this busy season, and as always, I pray that God will continue to bless you and your ministry.
Third Sunday of Advent
Gospel: Saint John 1:19–28
Those who teach others are merely the voice which prepares hearts; it belongs to God himself to prepare them by his grace to receive him.
3.1 First Point
The Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask Saint John who he was: the Christ, or Elijah, or a prophet. Saint John told them he was none of these, but declared, I am the voice of one crying in the desert: make straight the way of the Lord. Saint John wished to leave to Jesus Christ all the honor of converting souls, the task at which he himself labored so constantly. He said, therefore, that he was only a voice crying out in the desert. He thus showed that the substance of the doctrine he taught was not his own and that it was indeed the word of God which he preached; as for himself, he was only the voice which proclaimed it. In the same way that a voice is a sound which strikes the ear and makes it possible for a word to be heard, so it was that Saint John prepared the Jews to receive Jesus Christ.
The same thing is true of those who instruct others. They are only the voice of the One who really disposes hearts to accept Jesus Christ and his holy teaching. The one who disposes them, according to Saint Paul, can only be God, who imparts to humans the gift of speaking of him. According to the same apostle, when you speak all the tongues, both angelic and human, if you lack charity, or rather, if it is not God who makes you speak and who uses your voice to reveal himself and his sacred mysteries, you are nothing but sounding brass and tinkling cymbals. All you say will produce no good effect and will not be capable of bringing about any good results.
Let us then humble ourselves, considering that we are nothing but a voice, and that of ourselves we cannot say anything that will do the least good for souls or make any impression on them. For we are a mere voice, only a sound which becomes nothing once it has echoed through the air. (Meditations [Landover, MD: Christian Brothers Conference, 1994])
Make It Happen
Epiphany: In Search of the Star: A Guided Reflection
From Ministry Ideas for Celebrating Advent and Christmas with Teens, Families, and Parishes
The story of the wise men leaves many questions unanswered, the most provocative of which is, “What did they do when they lost sight of the star?” The central focus of this prayer service is a guided reflection on that question. The answer comes with recognizing the three gifts of the Magi that were far more important than the gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
Because of the length of the reflection, this prayer activity is most appropriate for a group of older teens or older teens and adults.
1. Gather the following items:
- a candle or an Advent wreath with four white candles, to set on a prayer table
- a Catholic Youth Bible or another Bible
- a variety of colored and patterned papers
- scissors, one pair for each participant
- masking tape
- pens, pencils, or markers
- a cassette or CD player
- a recording of reflective instrumental music
- hymnals, with which to choose a closing song
2. This prayer is best done in a space with lights that can be dimmed. If that is not possible, be sure to have a flashlight handy so you can read the reflection in a darkened room. The space should also have enough room for the participants to lie on the floor if they wish to and wall space that can be decorated.
- Set up a simple prayer table with a candle or an Advent wreath with four white candles.
- Recruit someone to proclaim Matthew 2:1–2 and another person to proclaim Matthew
- Choose a closing song on the theme of stars or light, preferably one that is part of the parish’s liturgical celebration of Epiphany.
1. Explain to the participants that their first task will be to transform the room into a galaxy of stars. Make a variety of colored and patterned papers and scissors available to them. Announce that they will have 5 minutes to cut out as many stars as they can in a variety of sizes. The stars do not need to be perfect, that is, they do not need the five symmetrical points of a stylized star.
At the end of 5 minutes, provide masking tape so that the participants can put their stars on the walls and ceiling. Use some stars to decorate the prayer table.
2. Ask the participants to find a place in the room where they can sit comfortably or lie down. Encourage them to look at the galaxy of stars they created. After a minute or two of silence, invite the reader to proclaim Matthew 2:1–2. Allow time for the participants to absorb the reading, and then dim the lights. You also might want to begin playing a recording of reflective music.
3. Read the following script slowly and clearly, pausing at the ellipses for a few seconds:
The reading we just heard gives us a lot of information. It tells us that some people who lived far away from the land of Israel saw a bright star. In their world such stars appeared only when great rulers and kings were born. So they packed up their camels and their caravans and began their search for this new king. Their journey would end with a great surprise. . . .
The reading also leaves a lot of questions unanswered:
How many people made the journey? Our tradition tells us there were three wise men because three gifts are mentioned, but there may have been as many as twelve, each with an entourage. What was life like for this large group of people traveling together, following a star? . . .
Why did they do it? As far as we can tell, there was no religious connection, nor were there family ties. What made these people put their life on hold to follow the star? . . .
How long did the journey take? They certainly did not make it in time to see the infant Jesus in the manger. It probably took a while to make preparations for the journey. Once they got started, the journey may have lasted more than a year. Did they ever want to give up and go home? . . .
They did not have a map. They simply followed a star. If they were truly wise, shouldn’t they have prepared a little more and gotten clearer directions? . . .
The position of the stars changes as the earth rotates. Also, the travelers probably encountered cloudy nights when no stars were visible. And of course, stars are not visible in the daytime, when most of the traveling would have taken place. All those factors lead to the most puzzling question of all: What did they do when they lost sight of the star? . . .
Did you ever have a great dream? What was it that you wanted so badly you were willing to give up a lot to make it happen? . . . What stars did you follow? That is, what steps did you take to make it happen? . . . What obstacles did you face along the way? . . . What kept you going? What motivated you to push ahead, even though things looked hopeless for a time? In other words, what did you do when you lost sight of the star? . . .
The wise men had a great dream: to find the king whose star appeared in the western sky. Do you have a great dream right now? What is it that you need to do or find that will bring greater meaning and happiness to your life? . . .
The wise men faced many obstacles. They probably lost sight of the star many times. They may have traveled for weeks without seeing the star. But they traveled with three gifts—gifts that were far more important than the gold, frankincense, and myrrh they carried for the newborn king.
The Magi had faith. They believed with all their heart that they were going in the right direction for the right reasons. . . . Do you believe that your great dream will help bring God to the world? . . .
They had hope. They knew they would eventually find what they were looking for. But it would take persistence, patience, and an open mind. What is it that you are hoping for? . . . Are you willing to be persistent and carry on even when things look hopeless? . . . What will test your patience? . . . Are you open to new possibilities, even if things don’t turn out exactly as you thought they would? . . .
The Magi had one another. When one person was ready to give up, the others probably urged him on. They were a community of journeyers. Who are your fellow travelers? . . . Who can you count on to see the star when you lose sight of it? . . .
Close this time of meditation by asking God to help you recognize the gifts of faith and hope that live in your heart and the gift of other people who share your world.
4. If time allows, invite the participants to share some thoughts about the guided reflection. Ask them to share their reactions, their insights, and their surprises.
5. Direct the participants to choose a star from the galaxy they created. On one side of the star, they are to write a word or two that describes their great dream. On the other side, they are to write the words faith, hope, and community.
6. Invite the second reader to proclaim Matthew 2:10–11. Encourage the participants to take their star home and put in on the wall near their bed as a sign that God will always be with them, even during the times when they lose sight of the star that guides them.
Close the prayer time with the hymn on the theme of stars or light that you chose before the session.
Break Open the Word
Third Sunday of Advent
December 11, 2011
John 1:6-8, 19-28
Jesus, John the Baptist recognized you as the Messiah, the one sent by God to bring about the salvation of all people. And in proclaiming you the Promised One, he led many to you. Help us to see you in our daily lives and to bring our fellow sojourners into your warm embrace. Amen.
John opens his Gospel, this third Sunday of Advent, by telling us that Jesus is the Word. This living Word, which dwelt with the God the Father since creation, came into the world to bring light to the darkness. We are introduced to John the Baptist, who was intimately acquainted with the light, who "came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him" (1:7). The Gospel writer goes on to emphasize that John the Baptist was not the Messiah but the herald of the Messiah: "He [John the Baptist] himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light" (1:8). As Christians we are called to imitate John the Baptist by pointing others to the light of Christ.
In verse 19, John the Baptist reveals his true identity as he responds to the religious elite of Jerusalem, who had sought him out. When they ask John, "Who are you" (1:19)? John answers, "I am not the Messiah" (1:20). His words suggest that some actually believed him to be the Messiah. Next they ask him, "Are you Elijah" (1:21)? John's physical appearance, particularly his attire, after all, resembled Elijah's. You may recall that the prophet Elijah lived during the period of the monarchy and was taken up into heaven in a fiery chariot (see 2 Kings 2:11). It was widely believed that Elijah would come again to anoint the Messiah. John says clearly that he is not Elijah. The elite have one more question, "Are you the prophet" (1:21)? In other words, they ask him whether he is Moses, the law giver, the greatest prophet Israel has ever known. John assures them that he is not Moses, who has returned to strengthen the Law. John finally gives them something that they can take back to their coreligionists in Jerusalem, "I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, / 'Make straight the way of the Lord'" (1:23). His visitors must have realized that he quoted Isaiah 40:3. They must have reported back that John was not the Messiah, nor the prophet Elijah, nor a new Moses. They probably saw him as another of those prophets speaking in the wilderness about redemption and judgment, but he was much more.
The mission of John the Baptist was to prepare the way for Jesus, the Messiah, whom he recognized as one far greater than himself, "I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal" (1:26-27).
Just as John the Baptist gave witness to Jesus as the Son of God, the Messiah, we are expected to give witness to the true identity of Jesus and the Gospel that he preached. This witness requires us to put Jesus's words into deeds by working for justice throughout the world.
The duty of Christians to take part in the life of the Church impels them to act as witnesses of the Gospel and of the obligations that flow from it. This witness is a transmission of the faith in words and deeds. Witness is an act of justice that establishes the truth or makes it known.1
All Christians by the example of their lives and the witness of their word, wherever they live, have an obligation to manifest the new man which they have put on in Baptism and to reveal the power of the Holy Spirit by whom they were strengthened at Confirmation.2 (Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 2472)
The Old Testament teaches and Jesus confirms that God is indeed the source of all truth. Through Baptism we are given the gift of a loving relationship with God the Father. As God's son or daughter, we, in turn, are called to live lives that give witness to that loving relationship.
The Old Testament attests that God is the source of all truth. His Word is truth. His Law is truth. His "faithfulness endures to all generations."3 Since God is "true," the members of his people are called to live in the truth.4 (Catechism, paragraph 2465).
As God the Son who took on human form, Jesus brought from God the Father the light of truth into a world overshadowed by darkness. He entrusted this light to his disciples. Baptism reminds us of the responsibilities of being light bearers. In Baptism a person or a person's godparent is given a candle, which is lighted from the Easter candle, with the instruction to carry the light of Christ into the world, to witness to the light of truth found in Jesus Christ.
In Jesus Christ, the whole of God's truth has been made manifest. "Full of grace and truth," he came as the "light of the world," he is the Truth.5 "Whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness."6 The disciple of Jesus continues in his word so as to know "the truth [that] will make you free" and that sanctifies.7 To follow Jesus is to live in "the Spirit of truth," whom the Father sends in his name and who leads "into all the truth."8 To his disciples Jesus teaches the unconditional love of truth: "Let what you say be simply 'Yes or No.'"9 (Catechism, paragraph 2466)
The Church makes available to us the record of those who gave witness to the truth of the Gospel. This collected record brings to life the faith journeys of the saints. These are sons and daughters of God who were able through their lives to give witness to the "Truth" and to point others to Jesus, who said "I am . . . the truth" (John 14:6).
John the Baptist was called to be the voice crying out in the wilderness to make straight the path of Jesus the Messiah. The importance of his role in salvation history, of which the Gospel writer reminds us, cannot be stressed enough. As a prophet, a truth sayer, John testified to the Light that is Jesus. "As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world" (John 9:5), said our Lord. The fact that John could see this awesome light says much about his character. We are the Baptist's heirs. Each of us must be a voice crying out in the wildernesses of our world, in the places seemingly devoid of God. Each of us must make straight the paths that lead to the hearts of those around us. If we do our part, we make it easier for Jesus to touch and thereby change the lives of others.
The world still needs prophets like John the Baptist. Let's take a look around. Who are the prophets of today in our church, in our world, in our family? During this season of Advent, let us pray for more prophets, let us pray that we live out the responsibilities of our Baptism by becoming prophets who not only speak the truth but actively listen to it as well.
The scriptural quotations contained herein are from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, Catholic Edition. Copyright © 1993 and 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. All rights reserved.
The quotations labeled Catechism are from the English translation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church for use in the United States of America. Copyright © 1994 by the United States Catholic Conference, Inc.--Libreria Editrice Vaticana. Used with permission.
The Lord's Prayer is from Catholic Household Blessings and Prayers. Copyright © 1988 United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Inc., Washington, DC. All rights reserved.
Endnotes Cited in Quotations from the Catechism of the Catholic Church
1. Cf. Matthew 18:26.
2. Ad gentes, 11.
3. Psalm 119:90; cf. Proverbs 8:7; 2 Samuel 7:28; Psalm 119:142; Luke 1:50.
4. Romans 3:4; cf. Psalm 119:30.
5. John 1:14; 8:12; cf. 14:6.
6. John 12:46.
7. John 8:32; cf. 17:17.
8. John 16:13.
9. Matthew 5:37.
Saint Juan Diego
December 9 is the memorial for Saint Juan Diego.
Canonized in 2002, Saint Juan Diego was a devoted and faithful convert to Catholicism. He was an indigenous member of Mexican society, holding no social or financial status. Every Saturday and Sunday, he would walk a great distance to attend Mass and receive religious instruction. On December 9, 1531, while walking to Mass, the Virgin Mary appeared with a message for him to deliver to the bishop: that there was to be a church built where she stood. When the bishop asked for a sign, the Blessed Virgin again appeared to Juan Diego. She directed him to where he would find roses that he was to gather in his cloak. The Blessed Virgin arranged the roses and again sent Juan Diego to the bishop. When Juan Diego unfolded his cloak before the bishop, the roses fell out and revealed the life-size image of the Blessed Virgin, known as Our Lady of Guadalupe.
For more information on Saint Juan Diego, go to http://saints.sqpn.com/saint-juan-diego/.