Sunday, November 20, 2016

First Sunday of Advent - November 27, 2016

First Reading Commentary
Proclaimed at Mass are the words, "In days to come".  The Latin Vulgate translates as, "In the last days".  The last days are understood as being from the time of the Incarnation of Jesus until the end of the world.  Jesus will usher in a New and Everlasting Covenant and what will follow after those days is eternity. 

"The Lord's house" is prophetic language meaning the Church and being "established as the highest mountain" speaks of the Church's everlasting visibility.  Isaiah tells us that "all nations shall stream toward it". 

Two significant, newsworthy events have occurred in recent times: First, the Traditional Anglican Communion sent a letter to Rome requesting full, corporate and sacramental communion with the Roman Catholic Church.  Archbishop Hepworth, a Primate of the Traditional Anglican Communion stated that: "Unity with Peter is a biblical imperative."  This led to in 2012 the Vatican’s creation of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter – Anglican communities becoming Catholic. The Ordinariate has basically the equivalence of a diocese.    

Secondly, in Catholic-Orthodox dialogue, for the first time the Orthodox were ready to speak about the universality of the Church.  The document drawn up for these latest talks recognizes that one bishop must hold a special place of honor and in the ancient Church that was the bishop of Rome.  The next set of talks will examine the role of the bishop of Rome, especially in the first thousand years of the Church when Catholics and Orthodox were in full agreement.  We're living in an age where we can watch these prophecies come to life. 

"From Zion shall go forth instruction" which gives us a clue that the Messiah shall come from the Jewish people.  Also, however, Zion was a fortress which was captured by King David and became known as the City of David.  This could be a clue about the Messiah having something to do with the Davidic line.  And then the words of Psalm 49 [50] add that God shines from Zion and is perfect in beauty (cf. verse 2).  This is a remarkable revelation when you put all the pieces together.  Dare anyone think that the Messiah would be none other than God Himself?  The "house of Jacob" is mystical language and it is from there that we can "walk in the light of the Lord" because Jacob's house is the Church of Jesus Christ.

Second Reading Commentary
According to Saint Thomas Aquinas, this short paragraph defines the Christian ideal as: honorableness, sense of honor and purity of life.  Saint Paul uses metaphoric language in this Reading.  On the negative side there is sleep, night, and "the works of darkness": orgies, drunkenness, promiscuity, lust, rivalry and jealousy.  These descriptions, of course, are among the activities which should be completely absent from the Christian way of life.  The other side of the fence is ideal for the Christian life: vigilance, the day, and the armor of light. 

This Reading has been interpreted to mean different things.  The verse, "our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed" speaks of the days, hours, minutes and seconds that pass by which literally bring us closer to the glorious return of Jesus Christ.  Another meaning is more along the lines of conversion.  Salvation is closer when the Gospel is preached and accepted thus bringing Christ's graces. 

"The night is advanced" refers to the sinful life that is lived before one has a conversion experience.  It should be noted that Saint Paul is addressing Gentile converts and for them their "day is at hand" because the Gospel has reversed their darkness of idolatry and sin.  The dark very much despises the light and tries to conceal itself.  The "armor of light" has been given several other descriptions by various Church writers such as the shield of faith, the breastplate of justice, the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit.  In simple terms, it is when we do the work of God that we have nothing to hide and therefore we are letting our light shine.  On the other hand, we have no interest in our sins being in public view and thus try to keep them concealed as in darkness. 

The distinction between light and dark is found often in the pages of the bible.  To use an analogy by making use of one of the sacraments: In the days before face-to-face confessions, the penitent would go into a dark booth and once the priest opened the screen, you could see that his side of the booth was lighted.  For the moment, the penitent's sins remained hidden in that dark confessional booth; but once the sins are confessed they enter into the lighted side of the booth, no longer kept hidden but revealed to the priest acting in Persona Christi, and then those sins are absolved.  The Light of Christ overpowers the darkness of our sins.

Gospel Commentary
Scripture tells us: "But of this one thing be not ignorant, my beloved, that one day with the Lord is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day" (2 Peter 3:8). The first intimations that there would be a Messiah compared to when He actually did appear covers a span of years that is longer than the two-thousand years the world has anticipated His Second Coming.  The finite's lack of understanding of the Infinite can surely cause impatience and eventually turn a culture away from God. 
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said: "We could say that Advent is the time when Christians should awaken in their hearts the hope that they can change the world, with the help of God."  Understanding the impatience factor, however, the Holy Father also said: "In Advent, the liturgy often repeats and assures us, as though seeking to defeat our mistrust, that 'God is coming'." 

A trust in the word of God is what often separates the saints from the rest of the pack.  Many of those who now walk the corridors of heaven lived earthly lives fully believing what God revealed in the Sacred Scriptures. 

In this Gospel it is not abundantly clear if the one who is taken is saved or the one who is left.  Among some of the early writers there is a difference of opinion. Our Lord uses Noah as an example which could mean that Noah and his family were left in the ark while the rest were taken or swept away by the flood.  The flip side is that Noah was taken away in the ark while the others stayed behind to die in the flood.  No one knows for certain how the real event will play out but it is clear that there is a distinction between receiving mercy and receiving judgment.  Notice the scenarios used here: Two men out in the field and two women grinding at the mill.  These are images of the daily workload; therefore, our Lord seems to be suggesting that our daily work and concerns are necessary.  What separates one man from the other and one woman from the other is that one of the men and one of the women are consumed with the concerns of this world and indifferent to the concerns of salvation.  Whereby the other man and woman are fulfilling their daily duties because they are a necessity of life, but see their duties as a partial fulfillment of what God has called them to do, thus living their life for God.  There's nothing in the text that suggests that the two who will receive judgment were grave sinners; therefore we seem to be visiting, as we frequently do, the topic of indifference and being lukewarm.  Lukewarmness has to be one of the biggest, if not the biggest topic of concern in Scripture that is most ignored.  You might say that many are indifferent to the scriptural warnings of indifference.  Indifference often reveals itself in our modern day with statements like: "I'm a good person; I never hurt anyone, therefore I don't really see the need to go to church" - or - "I give up one hour every Sunday for God and that's enough."  This, of course, is individualism and completely ignores the duties and concerns of being a viable body part in the Body of Christ. 

Our Lord says: "Be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come."  This is a call for perpetual vigilance - making Christ the Center of our lives.  The voice of John the Baptist crying out: "Prepare the way of the Lord!" should still echo in our hearts today.  This calling was given to one man before Christ began His public Ministry.  As we await our Lord's return that call to prepare His way has now been assigned to all of us.