Monday, December 15, 2014

4th Sunday of Advent - December 21, 2014

First Reading Commentary
Nathan’s approval of David’s desire demonstrates that the prophets were not always divinely inspired by their actions.  David’s kingdom at that time was not yet fully established.  There would still be wars awaiting him and thus it would not have been wise to build a temple to identify his kingdom.  God’s plan instead to establish a house for David was for the purpose of securing David’s lineage to the kingly nobility of the future Messiah.  This house designed by God would endure forever. 

God says to David: “I will raise up your heir after you, sprung from your loins, and I will make his kingdom firm.”  Scholars have given this both an individual and collective meaning.  In terms of an individual meaning, it refers to David’s son, Solomon.  Collectively it refers to the entire Davidic dynasty including the Messiah. 

The temporal kingdom was realized by David’s descendants for a long time, sufficiently enough to verify the use of the word “forever”.  But the spiritual Kingdom of Jesus Christ will last until the end of time and be perfected in eternity.  Since we have the advantage of knowing that the Messiah did indeed come from the house of David, it’s interesting to reflect on something revealed in this Reading and consider how it may also be prophetic.  David’s complaint is that “the ark of God dwells in a tent.”  Moving forward to when the world was nearing the birth of its Lord and Savior, the Ark, better known as the Blessed Virgin Mary was carrying in her womb the New and Everlasting Covenant; but this Ark of God too was not living in royal conditions.  Joseph, Mary and the Fruit of her womb went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth into Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem to be enrolled according to a decree from Caesar Augustus.  When Mary gave birth to Jesus she wrapped Him in swaddling clothes and laid Him in a manger because there was no room at the inn (cf. Luke 2:1-7).  It’s hardly a setting any human mind would conceive to be fit for a king, especially the King of kings!     

Second Reading Commentary
This passage is the final three verses in Saint Paul’s Letter to the Romans.  Saint John Chrysostom tells us that Paul’s reference to the “mystery kept secret” is the mystery of Christ’s work of redemption.  “But now manifested” refers to the Incarnation of Christ and man’s redemption, formerly revealed to the prophets but now “made known to all nations,” in order to bring everyone to the “obedience” of the Gospel, by embracing the faith and doctrine of Christ. 

The Greek text is a bit complicated but can be broken down like this: He “Who can strengthen you, according to my gospel” which means the preaching of Jesus Christ.  Our Lord’s preaching is “the revelation of” a divine “mystery”.  That mystery is God’s plan for salvation which was “kept secret for long ages, but now manifested” through the Incarnation and made known by the apostles.  The preaching of the apostles spread to “all nations” because God’s plan for salvation includes everyone.  

Gospel Commentary
It is one of the most familiar stories in Sacred Scripture.  In the Rosary, this is the First Joyful Mystery: the Annunciation. 

The name “Miriam” or “Mary” is explained by Saint Jerome from different etymologies.  In Hebrew the name signifies “star of the sea,” and in Chaldaic, “lady.”  Mary is quite often referred to as “Our Lady” and some may remember the Latin hymn: “Ave Maris Stella - Hail Star of the Sea” which is sung at Vespers on most Feasts of Our Lady and daily at Vespers in Officium Parvum Beatæ Mariæ Virginis (The Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary).  Both interpretations admirably are fitting for our Blessed Mother, the glorious Queen of heaven. 

Saint Bernard says, “Let her name be never absent from your mouth; from your mouth let it constantly descend into your heart; and, that you may obtain the suffrage of her prayers, both in life and death, never depart from the example of her pious conversation.” 

“Hail, full of grace” means the greatest share of divine graces granted to any creature.  This translation agrees with the ancient Syriac and Arabic versions.  The Blessed Mother of God would not have been raised to this highest dignity, had not her soul been first prepared for it by the greatest share of divine graces. 

To dig a little deeper into this theologically, skeptics have asked, how could someone be born from parents who were not free from sin, that is, Mary from her parents, Saints Joachim and Anne, and yet be born without the stain of original sin, when Jesus Christ Who instituted the Sacrament of Baptism and Confession and freed us from our sins by His salvific act, has not yet entered the world?  First, when dealing with matters of God, logic and the natural order of things can at times be thrown out the window “for nothing will be impossible for God”.  Secondly and more specifically, Christ’s death and Resurrection, although it occurred in a moment of time, it is, more importantly, an eternal event.  That is how His Sacrifice is able to be re-presented at Mass.  At each and every Mass it is still that one and same Sacrifice.  Therefore, the fruits of this eternal event were granted to Mary ahead of time to prepare her to be the Mother of God, the highest of all dignities.  As perplexing as all this sounds, it was most likely very confusing for Mary as well since she pondered about the meaning of the greeting she received from the angel Gabriel.  She was equally confused as to how she could carry a Child in her womb if she is a Virgin. 

The brilliant mind of Saint Augustine sees something else in Mary’s response about having “no relations with a man”.  The great saint explains that these words from the Blessed Virgin would have been to no purpose had she not made a vow to God to live always a Virgin.  The angel tells her she shall conceive; but she insists upon her virginity, holding her purity in higher estimation than the promised dignity.  She did not doubt the truth of what the angel said, but she wished that it might not happen if it meant giving up her vowed virginity. 

With this thought from Saint Augustine, perhaps it can be said that since the angel explained to Mary that she would conceive by the power of the Holy Spirit, this indicates that God did not wish her to relinquish her virginity.  In God’s plan, then, most likely Saint Joseph is called to be not only the foster and adoptive father of Jesus, but also a guardian of Mary’s virginity.  Safe to say, when the angel Gabriel was finished with his words, Mary was still in the fog; but impressively in what can be considered a complete act of submission and also a lesson for us is that Mary, because her faith dictates that God is in charge, responds thus by saying: “May it be done to me according to your word.”  Just before that response is perhaps the one moment in human history where one could hear a pin drop from anywhere in the universe because all ears are waiting to hear Mary’s answer to God’s proposal.  After all, what was at stake was the salvation of humanity. 

There are things that occur in this life that simply are beyond comprehension.  Some of those occurrences are wonderful and some are tragic.  And since all the “Why’s” cannot be answered, we have to conform to Mary’s faith and say: “Fiat, fiat! -- So be it, so be it!” 

Being born without the stain of original sin is not a requirement for surrendering to God.  Saint Luke’s depiction of Mary’s commitment to total surrender is designed to show that abandoning our will for the will of God is an essential feature of the Kingdom of God.  And because the angel Gabriel conveys that of Christ’s “Kingdom there will be no end,” we are given an indication of something that is far greater than a temporal kingdom.