“I am the voice of one crying out in the desert, ‘make straight the way of the Lord,'”
God of hope,
you call us home from the exile of selfish oppression
to the freedom of justice,
the balm of healing,
and the joy of sharing.
Make us strong to join you in your holy work,
as friends of strangers and victims,
companions of those whom others shun,
and as the happiness of those whose hearts are broken.
We make our prayer through Jesus Christ our Lord.
O God, who see how your people
faithfully await the feast of the Lord’s Nativity,
enable us, we pray,
to attain the joys of so great a salvation
and to celebrate them always
with solemn worship and glad rejoicing.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity
of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
Is 61:1-2a, 10-11
The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,
because the LORD has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor,
to heal the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives
and release to the prisoners,
to announce a year of favor from the LORD
and a day of vindication by our God.
I rejoice heartily in the LORD,
in my God is the joy of my soul;
for he has clothed me with a robe of salvation
and wrapped me in a mantle of justice,
like a bridegroom adorned with a diadem,
like a bride bedecked with her jewels.
As the earth brings forth its plants,
and a garden makes its growth spring up,
so will the Lord GOD make justice and praise
spring up before all the nations.
CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH (CCC)
CCC 436 The word “Christ” comes from the Greek translation of the Hebrew Messiah, which means “anointed”. It became the name proper to Jesus only because he accomplished perfectly the divine mission that “Christ” signifies. In effect, in Israel those consecrated to God for a mission that he gave were anointed in his name. This was the case for kings, for priests and, in rare instances, for prophets.1 This had to be the case all the more so for the Messiah whom God would send to inaugurate his kingdom definitively.2 It was necessary that the Messiah be anointed by the Spirit of the Lord at once as king and priest, and also as prophet.3 Jesus fulfilled the messianic hope of Israel in his threefold office of priest, prophet and king.
CCC 695 Anointing. The symbolism of anointing with oil also signifies the Holy Spirit,4 to the point of becoming a synonym for the Holy Spirit. In Christian initiation, anointing is the sacramental sign of Confirmation, called “chrismation” in the Churches of the East. Its full force can be grasped only in relation to the primary anointing accomplished by the Holy Spirit, that of Jesus. Christ (in Hebrew “messiah”) means the one “anointed” by God’s Spirit. There were several anointed ones of the Lord in the Old Covenant, pre-eminently King David.5 But Jesus is God’s Anointed in a unique way: the humanity the Son assumed was entirely anointed by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit established him as “Christ.”6 The Virgin Mary conceived Christ by the Holy Spirit who, through the angel, proclaimed him the Christ at his birth, and prompted Simeon to come to the temple to see the Christ of the Lord.7 The Spirit filled Christ and the power of the Spirit went out from him in his acts of healing and of saving.8 Finally, it was the Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead.9 Now, fully established as “Christ” in his humanity victorious over death, Jesus pours out the Holy Spirit abundantly until “the saints” constitute – in their union with the humanity of the Son of God – that perfect man “to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ”:10 “the whole Christ,” in St. Augustine’s expression.
CCC 714 This is why Christ inaugurates the proclamation of the Good News by making his own the following passage from Isaiah:11
The Spirit of the LORD God is upon me,
because the LORD has anointed me
to bring good tidings to the afflicted;
he has sent me to bind up the broken hearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor.
CCC 716 The People of the “poor”12 – those who, humble and meek, rely solely on their God’s mysterious plans, who await the justice, not of men but of the Messiah – are in the end the great achievement of the Holy Spirit’s hidden mission during the time of the promises that prepare for Christ’s coming. It is this quality of heart, purified and enlightened by the Spirit, which is expressed in the Psalms. In these poor, the Spirit is making ready “a people prepared for the Lord.”13
CCC 1286 In the Old Testament the prophets announced that the Spirit of the Lord would rest on the hoped-for Messiah for his saving mission.14 The descent of the Holy Spirit on Jesus at his baptism by John was the sign that this was he who was to come, the Messiah, the Son of God.15 He was conceived of the Holy Spirit; his whole life and his whole mission are carried out in total communion with the Holy Spirit whom the Father gives him “without measure.”16
1 Cf. Ex 29:7; Lev 8:12; 1 Sam 9:16; 10:1; 16:1, 12-13; I Kings 1:39; 19:16.
2 Cf. Ps 2:2; Acts 4:26-27.
3 Cf. Is 11:2; 61:1; Zech 4:14; 6:13; Lk 4:16-21.
4 Cf. 1 In 2:20:27; 2 Cor 1:21.
5 Cf. Ex 30:22-32; 1 Sam 16:13.
6 Cf. Lk 418-19; Isa 61:1.
7 Cf. Lk 2:11,26-27.
8 Cf. Lk 4:1; 6:19; 8:46.
9 Cf. Rom 1:4; 8:11.
10 Eph 4:13; cf. Acts 2:36.
11 Isa 61:1-2; cf. Lk 4:18-19.
12 Cf. Zeph 2:3; Pss 22:27; 34:3; Isa 49:13; 61:1; etc.
13 Lk 1:17.
14 Cf. Isa 11:2; 61:1; Lk 4:16-22.
15 Cf. Mt 3:13-17; Jn 1:33-34.
16 Jn 3:34.
Whether or not the prophet who spoke these words to his fellow-captives in Babylon foresaw their fuller meaning, their real fulfillment in the future messianic liberation, matters not to us. We have the testimony of our Lord, who applies these very words to himself. After reading 60: 1-2 of Isaiah in the synagogue of Nazareth he says: “Today this scripture is being fulfilled in your hearing.” It was he who was to bring the good tidings to the afflicted, to bind up the broken-hearted, to free the captives, and to proclaim the great year of jubilee, God’s liberation of all mankind.
The exile and imprisonment of the Jews in Babylon (587-538) was but an image, a shadow, of the universal exile and self-imprisonment which the human race, through sin, had imposed on itself. Man not only disobeyed God, but forgot him completely. He made his own gods of wood, metal or stone. In these he foolishly put his trust. But they were even more helpless than man himself. In those days before Christ, life for man on earth was harder and more sorrowful than it is for the majority today. Man had nothing to look forward to but the grave. The few who had freedom and riches could enjoy them, but only for all too short a time. For them the thought of death (a thought they could hardly put aside) had more misery in it than for the slave who had nothing to leave behind him.
The Chosen People alone had a knowledge of the true God. They knew he created them. They knew they owed him honor and obedience. They were told to look forward to the day when God’s representative, his Messiah, would come and make them (and all nations) members of God’s new kingdom. They believed that they would live on in some shadowy way after death and would enter God’s kingdom when this Messiah came. We can rightly presume that God, because of his infinite love and mercy, found ways and means too of giving the pagans of good-will every opportunity to merit that same kingdom when it came. We are the descendants of pagan ancestors who adored idols and knew nothing of God or of a future life. But we are living in the noonday light of the Christian revelation. We know that God, through the incarnation, has raised us up to the status of sonship with him. He has made us capable of possessing a new, eternal life after death. While our struggles and troubles on this earth may not be as grievous as those of our ancestors, they are still sufficiently serious and severe to make most of us almost despondent at times. However, we have the marvelous advantage that we know the reason for suffering. We can and should appreciate the eternal value of earthly suffering. Suffering is, in fact, part of our training and preparation for our eternal reward. Through the cross we receive the crown. This morning, let us thank God from our hearts for the “good tidings” of our redemption and exaltation, brought to us by Christ the Son of God and our loving Brother. We are free-men, children of God, on our way to heaven. The road may be rough at times. It may be strewn with many crosses and trials. But if we keep the thought of the happy ending ever before our minds, we shall never falter, never give up. Nothing matters so much to us in this life as the guarantee that we will end it in God’s love and friendship. It is only by endeavoring to live in God’s love and friendship that we can assure ourselves of this guarantee. These days of preparation for Christmas are very suitable for us to prepare to meet Christ our Lord when he comes as our Judge.
Lk 1:46-48, 49-50, 53-54
(Is 61:10b) My soul rejoices in my God.
My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked upon his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed:
My soul rejoices in my God.
The Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his Name.
He has mercy on those who fear him
in every generation.
My soul rejoices in my God.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel
for he has remembered his promise of mercy,
My soul rejoices in my God.
1 Thes 5:16-24
Brothers and sisters:
Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing.
In all circumstances give thanks,
for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.
Do not quench the Spirit.
Do not despise prophetic utterances.
Test everything; retain what is good.
Refrain from every kind of evil.
May the God of peace make you perfectly holy
and may you entirely, spirit, soul, and body,
be preserved blameless for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The one who calls you is faithful,
and he will also accomplish it.
CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH (CCC)
CCC 367 Sometimes the soul is distinguished from the spirit: St. Paul for instance prays that God may sanctify his people “wholly”, with “spirit and soul and body” kept sound and blameless at the Lord’s coming.1 The Church teaches that this distinction does not introduce a duality into the soul.2 “Spirit” signifies that from creation man is ordered to a supernatural end and that his soul can gratuitously be raised beyond all it deserves to communion with God.3
CCC 696 Fire. While water signifies birth and the fruitfulness of life given in the Holy Spirit, fire symbolizes the transforming energy of the Holy Spirit’s actions. The prayer of the prophet Elijah, who “arose like fire” and whose “word burned like a torch,” brought down fire from heaven on the sacrifice on Mount Carmel.4 This event was a “figure” of the fire of the Holy Spirit, who transforms what he touches. John the Baptist, who goes “before [the Lord] in the spirit and power of Elijah,” proclaims Christ as the one who “will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”5 Jesus will say of the Spirit: “I came to cast fire upon the earth; and would that it were already kindled!”6 In the form of tongues “as of fire,” the Holy Spirit rests on the disciples on the morning of Pentecost and fills them with himself7 The spiritual tradition has retained this symbolism of fire as one of the most expressive images of the Holy Spirit’s actions.8 “Do not quench the Spirit.”9
CCC801 It is in this sense that discernment of charisms is always necessary. No charism is exempt from being referred and submitted to the Church’s shepherds. “Their office [is] not indeed to extinguish the Spirit, but to test all things and hold fast to what is good,”10 so that all the diverse and complementary charisms work together “for the common good.”11
CCC 1169 Therefore Easter is not simply one feast among others, but the “Feast of feasts,” the “Solemnity of solemnities,” just as the Eucharist is the “Sacrament of sacraments” (the Great Sacrament). St. Athanasius calls Easter “the Great Sunday”12 and the Eastern Churches call Holy Week “the Great Week.” The mystery of the Resurrection, in which Christ crushed death, permeates with its powerful energy our old time, until all is subjected to him.
CCC 2633 When we share in God’s saving love, we understand that every need can become the object of petition. Christ, who assumed all things in order to redeem all things, is glorified by what we ask the Father in his name.13 It is with this confidence that St. James and St. Paul exhort us to pray at all times.14
CCC 2638 As in the prayer of petition, every event and need can become an offering of thanksgiving. The letters of St. Paul often begin and end with thanksgiving, and the Lord Jesus is always present in it: “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you”; “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.”15
1 1 Th 5:23.
2 Cf. Council of Constantinople IV (870): DS 657.
3 Cf. Vatican Council I, Dei Filius: DS 3005; GS 22 # 5; Humani generis: DS 3891.
4 Sir 48:1; cf. 1 Kings 18:38-39.
5 Lk 1:17; 3:16.
6 Lk 12:49.
7 Acts 2:3-4.
8 Cf. St. John of the Cross, The Living Flame of Love, in The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross, tr. K. Kavanaugh, OCD, and O. Rodriguez, OCD (Washington DC: Institute of Carmelite Studies, 1979), 577 ff.
9 1 Thess 5:1.
10 LG 12; cf. 30; 1 Thess 5:12, 19-21; John Paul II, Christifideles Laici, 24.
11 1 Cor 12:7.
12 St. Athanasius (ad 329) ep. fest. 1: PG 24, 1366.
13 Cf. Jn 14:13.
14 Cf. Jas 1:5-8; Eph 5:20; Phil 4:6-7; Col 3:16-17; 1 Thess 5:17-18.
15 1 Thess 5:18; Col 4:2.
Our first impression, on reading these serious exhortations of St. Paul to his Thessalonian converts, could be: as Christians they were away above us in holiness of life and in their daily way of living. Paul certainly seems to demand much of them. Is not the very same demanded of us? We, too, must be ever rejoicing in our good fortune, and ever thanking God for putting heaven within relatively easy reach. We. too, must strive to be found in God’s grace–“blameless” when our call to judgment comes. We, too, have St. Paul praying for us in heaven, more effectively now than when he prayed for the Thessalonians. We. too, must abstain from all that is evil.
The Thessalonians, it is true, had the visible gifts of the Holy Spirit to strengthen their faith and to console them in their struggles. But we, too, have at our disposal in the Church all the aids necessary to live truly Christian lives. We have the Church pointing out to us what to believe and what to do. Christ did not leave us orphans; he provided for his followers of all generations. We have the sacraments to lift us up if we fall and strengthen us with God’s grace. We have God’s revelation in the written word of the Bible. We have the example of numerous saints who trod the same path we are expected to follow, and successfully reached heaven.
In some ways then, we are better equipped than were the Thessalonians. They had to suffer much opposition from their pagan neighbors, who thought that the Christian religion was at best a form of madness. They were liable to persecution at any moment from the Roman authorities, who thought Christianity was anti-Emperor, anti-Empire. But have we not the same difficulties to face? Our world today is, in fact, more pagan than was the Roman Empire of St. Paul’s time. Opposition to Christianity is more rampant today than ever before. Ways and means of secularizing our society, to the exclusion and extinction of all things supernatural, have been multiplied a thousandfold in the present age.
All things considered, it was perhaps easier for the Thessalonians, humanly speaking, to live a truly Christian life and so earn heaven, than it is for us Christians today. However, living a truly Christian life is not a merely human activity. God has a part in it; in fact, God has the principal part to play in it. What St. Paul told the Thessalonians, he tells us too : “God is faithful.” God will do his part, the greater part, of the work of our salvation. So it matters not how many opponents we have. It makes no difference how many machinations they invent to impede us on our journey. Our “God is faithful” and our God is with us, helping us every step of the way.
Rejoice then, nay, exult in joy! Thank God from your heart for the gift of the true faith. Thank him for everything he sends in life. The rough, as well as the smooth has a part in God’s plan for making us worthy of sharing his kingdom. We shall “pray constantly.” Our simple, everyday life will be a life of prayer, if we do our daily tasks. They may be humdrum and unimportant, or great affairs of state. But they are prayers, provided we offer them to God and see them as the things we must do on life’s journey.
The Christian who lives such a life, who does his duty daily, who is loyal and true to God and to his neighbor, who bears patiently the troubles of life and enjoys the lawful pleasures of life, need have no fear for his future. He will be found “sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Jn 1:6-8, 19-28
A man named John was sent from God.
He came for testimony, to testify to the light,
so that all might believe through him.
He was not the light,
but came to testify to the light.
And this is the testimony of John.
When the Jews from Jerusalem sent priests
and Levites to him
to ask him, “Who are you?”
He admitted and did not deny it,
but admitted, “I am not the Christ.”
So they asked him,
“What are you then? Are you Elijah?”
And he said, “I am not.”
“Are you the Prophet?”
He answered, “No.”
So they said to him,
“Who are you, so we can give an answer to those who sent us?
What do you have to say for yourself?”
“I am the voice of one crying out in the desert,
‘make straight the way of the Lord,'”
as Isaiah the prophet said.”
Some Pharisees were also sent.
They asked him,
“Why then do you baptize
if you are not the Christ or Elijah or the Prophet?”
John answered them,
“I baptize with water;
but there is one among you whom you do not recognize,
the one who is coming after me,
whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie.”
This happened in Bethany across the Jordan,
where John was baptizing.
CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH (CCC)
CCC 575 Many of Jesus’ deeds and words constituted a “sign of contradiction”,1 but more so for the religious authorities in Jerusalem, whom the Gospel according to John often calls simply “the Jews”,2 than for the ordinary People of God.3 To be sure, Christ’s relations with the Pharisees were not exclusively polemical. Some Pharisees warn him of the danger he was courting;4 Jesus praises some of them, like the scribe of Mark 12:34, and dines several times at their homes.5 Jesus endorses some of the teachings imparted by this religious elite of God’s people: the resurrection of the dead,6 certain forms of piety (almsgiving, fasting and prayer),7 the custom of addressing God as Father, and the centrality of the commandment to love God and neighbor.8
CCC 717 “There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.”9 John was “filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb”10 by Christ himself, whom the Virgin Mary had just conceived by the Holy Spirit. Mary’s visitation to Elizabeth thus became a visit from God to his people.11
CCC 719 John the Baptist is “more than a prophet.”12 In him, the Holy Spirit concludes his speaking through the prophets. John completes the cycle of prophets begun by Elijah.13 He proclaims the imminence of the consolation of Israel; he is the “voice” of the Consoler who is coming.14 As the Spirit of truth will also do, John “came to bear witness to the light.”15 In John’s sight, the Spirit thus brings to completion the careful search of the prophets and fulfills the longing of the angels.16 “He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit. And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God. .. Behold, the Lamb of God.”17
CCC 1108 In every liturgical action the Holy Spirit is sent in order to bring us into communion with Christ and so to form his Body. The Holy Spirit is like the sap of the Father’s vine which bears fruit on its branches.18 The most intimate cooperation of the Holy Spirit and the Church is achieved in the liturgy. The Spirit who is the Spirit of communion, abides indefectibly in the Church. For this reason the Church is the great sacrament of divine communion which gathers God’s scattered children together. Communion with the Holy Trinity and fraternal communion are inseparably the fruit of the Spirit in the liturgy.19
1 Lk 2:34.
2 Cf. Jn 1:19; 2:18; 5:10; 7:13; 9:22; 18:12; 19:38; 20:19.
3 Jn 7:48-49.
4 Cf Lk 13:31.
5 Cf. Lk 7:36; 14:1.
6 Cf. Mt 22:23-34; Lk 20:39.
7 Cf. Mt 6:18.
8 Cf. Mk 12:28-34.
9 Jn 1:6.
10 Lk 1:15, 41.
11 Cf. Lk 1:68.
12 Lk 7:26.
13 Cf. Mt 11:13-14.
14 Jn 1:23; cf. Isa 40:1-3.
15 Jn 1:7; cf. Jn 15:26; 5:35.
16 Cf. 1 Pet 1:10-12.
17 Jn 1:33-36.
18 Cf. Jn 15:1-17; Gal 5:22.
19 Cf. 1 Jn 1:3-7.
“There was a man sent from God.” In this man we see perhaps the only outstanding example among a multitude, of the workings of God’s providence among men. The conception, birth, hermitical life in the desert, and the role of precursor of the Messiah, are all the effects of God’s intervention in our behalf. John the Baptist was sent by God: “to bear witness to the Light” of the world, to tell the remnant of the Chosen People (and through them the world) that God’s eternal plan for man was being implemented; that the incarnation of his divine Son had taken place. John’s testimony was surely world-shaking news. Weak, mortal men were to be changed into sons of God by adoption. Pardon for their many sins would be earned by the bodily sufferings of the incarnate one. His resurrection would conquer death. Men would rise again and enter into the everlasting life of the divine Trinity.
Down through two thousand years or so, God had been preparing the world of man for this staggering event. As a special people, he chose Abraham and his descendants. He revealed to them something of his eternal nature and especially his fatherly interest in the human beings he had created. Through his prophets he gave them some fairly clear indications of the culmination of his eternal plan for men, namely, the fact of the incarnation.
John was the last of the great line of prophets and he was the greatest of them all. It was his privilege to point out to his audience the Son of God in human nature, the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” and also to hear God’s voice from heaven proclaiming Christ to be his “beloved Son.” He was surely a man sent from God.
John was sent not only for his contemporaries, for the Jews of his day, but for men of all time. Over the past two thousand years the good news of the incarnation, of our redemption and exaltation, has reached the greater part of mankind. But like the delegates who came down from Jerusalem that day in the year 30 A.D., there have been, in all generations, those who will not hear. These are men who, like the leaders of the Jews in the Baptist’s day, are so self-centered and proud that they think they have no need for God or his providence in their lives.
Let those of us who believe in God and who know what he has done to give our life on earth its true purpose and meaning, show him by a faithful service how grateful we are for his infinite mercy and kindness. Let us listen to the call of John the Baptist, and from our hearts repent of our sins. Let us prepare for Christmas, the anniversary of Christ’s human appearance on earth, by cleansing ourselves of all sinful attachments, by making a firm resolution to follow the Lamb through life. By so doing we too shall “bear witness to the light.” Our living faith will illumine the darkness for others and they, too, will hear the call of God. In that way, each one of us can be another John the Baptist, by giving testimony to God’s fatherly interest in all men. Thus can we lead our careless or indifferent brothers back on to the path of salvation, the road to heaven.
Applications written by Fr. Kevin O’Sullivan O.F.M. and used with permission from Franciscan Press.
John the Baptist in Advent
Let us gaze on John the Baptist. Challenging and active he stands before us, a ‘type” of the manly vocation. In harsh terms he demands metanoia, a radical transformation of attitudes. Those who would be Christians must be “transformed” ever again. Our natural disposition, indeed, finds us always ready to assert ourselves to pay like with like, to put ourselves at the center. Those who want to find God need, again and again, that inner conversation, that new direction. And this applies also to the total outlook on life. Day by day we encounter the world of visible things. It assaults us through billboards, broadcasts, traffic, and all the activities of daily life, to such an enormous extent that we are tempted to assume there is nothing else but this. Yet the truth is that what is invisible is greater and much more valuable than anything visible. One single sou, in Paschal’s beautiful words, is worth more than the entire visible universe. But in order to have a living awareness of this, we need conversion, we need to turn around inside, as it were, to overcome the illusion of what is visible, and to develop the feeling, the ears and the eyes, for what is invisible. This has to be more important than anything that bombards us day after day with such exaggerated urgency. Metanoeite: change your attitude, so that God may dwell in you and, through you, in the world. John himself was not spared this painful process of change, if turning around.
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI
Merciful God of peace,
your work, spoken by the prophets,
restores your people’s life and hope.
Fill our hearts with the joy of your saving grace,
that we may hold fast to your great goodness
and in our lives proclaim your justice in all the world through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.