Every Advent we once more get the chance to reflect on a number of important people from the Old Testament, especially the person of John the Baptist, who plays such an important role in the bridge from the Old to the New Testament. St. Luke’s Gospel tells us that John’s mother Elizabeth, who was a relative of Mary, and his father Zechariah “were righteous in the eyes of God, observing all the commandments of the Lord blamelessly. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren and both were advanced in years.”
Zechariah, who was a priest, had a vision while serving in the Temple. An angel appeared to him and said, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, because your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall name him John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice in his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord.”
Zechariah was dumbfounded. He was so incredulous, so skeptical and unbelieving, that until the child was born and brought into the Temple to be circumcised on the eighth day, he found himself unable to speak. It was not until his neighbors and relatives asked him to confirm the child’s name and he wrote on a tablet “John,” that “his mouth was opened, his tongue freed, and he spoke blessing God.”
Unlike Mary, Elizabeth’s pregnancy came about in the usual way—as the result of marital intercourse with her husband. Still, there was nothing usual about John’s conception and birth. As St. Luke tells us, he was “filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb,” and he was destined to greatness, “to prepare a people fit for the Lord” from the moment of his conception. Elizabeth and Zechariah were blessed with a child late in life. Because they were righteous people who feared the Lord and obeyed his commandments, they were chosen by God to be the parents of one who would play a special role in the history of our salvation.
The story of John’s conception, of his encounter with Jesus even in his mother’s womb, and of his unique role as a precursor—the one commissioned to prepare for the coming of the Lord—is a story of God’s active participation in human affairs. Telling this story, and celebrating the mysteries it reveals, is our way of acknowledging that we are sharers in the creation of new life, called to reverence all life and to respect the dignity of each and every unborn and newborn child. He will grow up to be a righteous man like his parents. He will be led by the Spirit to become a witness—a martyr—to the one whose sandals he is not fit to untie. He will preach a baptism of repentance, a form of conversion that will be superseded by baptism in the Holy Spirit. He will speak the truth in love and be severely punished by King Herod for exposing the vanity and futility of the political forces of his time. He will lose his life, as all martyrs do, confident that the God who is the author of all life will sustain him at the end of his life and beyond.
John points us to Jesus, the way, the truth and the life. “It’s not about me,” John continues to say. “It’s about the one who comes after me to set us free.”
Let’s pray for the wisdom and the courage of Elizabeth and Zechariah, who brought a child into their troubled time with rejoicing and gladness. Let’s pray for the grace to recognize that every child in its mother’s womb is a gift from God to be nurtured, protected and loved. Let’s hope that John’s call to repentance will be heard and that his witness will continually show us the way to Jesus.
SECOND SUNDAY OF ADVENT
In today’s First Reading, the author addresses personified Jerusalem, who is grieving over her people in exile in Babylon. He attempts to console her, telling her to take off her mourning garments and wrap herself in the robe of God’s justice. The crown of God’s glory that she receives is probably Aaron’s priestly crown with its engraving, “Sacred to the Lord.” In addition, she will receive a new name, “the peace of justice, the glory of God’s worship.” In other words, Jerusalem will become the priest of God’s Temple, and she will rejoice as her people come back to her in pilgrimage. What an amazing image of God’s care and protection!
The Gospel describes a scene in which John the Baptist is called by God in the wilderness and responds by proclaiming a “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” This is not the Baptism that those becoming Christian seek. Rather, John is calling the people to commit themselves to an immersive experience of repentance. Yet God is a gracious God, and the reward will be great for those who accept the challenge. Quoting Isaiah, John says that the valleys will be filled and the mountains made low to make straight the way so all may know God’s salvation.
The Second Reading echoes many of the same themes, especially joy at the recognition of God’s care and protection and the call to be pure and blameless when at least we stand before God when Christ returns in glory.
In the Gospel, Luke places John the Baptist in time by giving the name of the ruling emperor, governor, and regional leader as well as the priests in the Temple. The Church, Lumen gentium notes, enters history but is not bound by it. The Second Vatican Council document states, “In order to extend to all regions of the earth, the Church enters into human history, though it transcends at once all times and all boundaries between peoples” (#9).
Addressing the Philippians, Paul speaks of their “partnership for the gospel,” of their growing in love, and discerning what is of value. Pope Francis echoes the Second Reading in The Joy of the Gospel as he notes the need for new ways of relating to God and others and essential values. In the apostolic exhortation, the Holy Father states, “What is called for is an evangelization capable of shedding light on these new ways of relating to God, to others, and to the world around us, and inspiring essential values” (#74).
Paul kept the hope of eternal life before the Philippians as he spoke of the coming of Christ. Pope Benedict XVI’s second encyclical Spe salvi focuses on hope, stating in the first paragraph that the hope we have been given allows us to face the present. In faith, he states, we look ahead to the final judgment (#41). However, he voices a concern that the communal aspect of faith is ignored. The Holy Father states, “In the modern era, the idea of the Last Judgment has faded into the background: Christian faith has been individualized and primarily oriented towards the salvation of the believer’s own soul, while reflection on world history is largely dominated by the idea of progress. The fundamental content of awaiting a final judgment, however, has not disappeared; it has simply taken on a totally different form” (#42).
For Your Reflection: The First Reading tells of God leading “with mercy and justice for company.” What roles do mercy and justice play in your life? When have you told someone of the great things the Lord has done in your life? During this Advent, how can you “discern what is of value” so that you will be ready to meet Christ?
OUR LADY OF GUADALUPE
Wednesday, December 12, 2018
On Wednesday of this week we celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Patroness of the Americas. It celebrates the appearance of the Blessed Virgin to now St. Juan Diego, who was asked to go to the bishop and ask that a church be built where she had appeared. When the bishop asked for proof or a sign, Our Lady told Juan Diego to pick some roses from the spot where ordinarily none would have been in blossom at that time of the year. When Juan Diego opened his cloak before the bishop, the roses fell out, but on the cloak was now a beautiful image of the Lady, which we have come to know as Our Lady of Guadalupe.
The main celebration of the feast will take place at the 1:15 Mass. That Mass will be bi-lingual (Spanish and English). Fr. Juan Carlos , Fr. Tom Ess,, and Fr. Ed Shea have been planning the Mass and will lead the prayer. There will be special music selected for this Mass. Afterwards people are invited downstairs for refreshments and fellowship. We hope many people will be able to come and celebrate with us for the feast.
A LETTER FROM CARDINAL CUPICH
Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
During this weekend of December 8-9, our parishes will be conducting the Retirement Fund for Religious collection. This annual appeal benefits 31,000 elderly Catholic sisters, brothers, and religious order priests—women and men who have consecrated their lives to serving God and the Church.
During the 2018 World Day for Consecrated Life, Pope Francis remarked, “There is no growth without roots and no flowers without new buds.” This analogy has certainly been born out within the life of the Church in the United States. Senior religious were the roots that established Catholic schools, hospitals, and social services agencies—allowing generations of Catholics to flourish. Today, the example of older religious inspires younger members to persevere in mission and ministry.
Yet many religious communities struggle to provide for aging members. Most elder religious served for small stipends, leaving a large gap in retirement savings. Rising health care costs and decreased income compound the struggle to provide adequate care. Your gift to the Retirement Fund for Religious provides vital funding for medications, nursing care, and more. It also helps religious congregations implement long-range retirement strategies, even as they continue to serve the People of God.
Since the inception of this annual event nearly 30 years ago, the Archdiocese of Chicago has been one of the most generous donors to this collection for those who have labored long and hard in the vineyards of the Lord. I recognize this is but one of numerous worthy causes in need of assistance; I ask simply that you give what you can. In thanksgiving for their faithful service, please join with me in supporting the Retirement Fund for Religious and in praying for God’s blessing on our nation’s elderly religious.
Sincerely in Christ,
Cardinal Blasé J. Cupich
Archbishop of Chicago
THE ANNUAL POSADA
St. Peter’s will once again host the final stage of the annual Loop Posada on Friday, December 14. The group march will begin at 7:00 A.M. and will arrive here c. 8:45, when they will knock on the front door and ask for food and shelter, something they were refused along the way. We will welcome them as they express their gratitude for our hospitality and then proceed down to the lower level where there will be food, drink, singing and prayer. The march always reminds us of Mary and Joseph seeking shelter in Bethlehem, but it also these days reminds us of the plight of so many immigrants who are fleeing war-torn areas for a place of refuge and hope. Let us remember them all as various posadas are celebrated around the city and open our hearts to their suffering and their need for a safe place for themselves and their families.
END OF THE YEAR CONTRIBUTIONS
Many people at this time of year are considering a special end-of-the-year charitable gift in order to use it for tax purposes. Certainly I am sure any of your favorite charities would appreciate such a gift from you. We at St. Peter’s would also be very thankful if you would remember us in a similar way. You ma deposit your gift in the regular collection either on weekdays or on a weekend or you can send it to us through the mail, but we would have to receive it by December 31 so that we could record it for the 2018 calendar year. Thank you for thinking of us and our needs.
I want to thank the members of the liturgy committee and several of their helpers who have worked long and hard on our Christmas decorations this year. It takes a lot of planning and much time to make our church come alive with the Christmas spirit fitting for the celebration of so great a feast. The fact that we want to keep the Advent environment as long as possible also means that so much of the decorating must be done in a relatively short amount of time.
We invite you to help us defray the cost of our beautiful Christmas decorations by making a specific donation for this purpose. We have some envelopes to do so near the back of church. Put your gift into one of these envelopes (or you can deposit cash or check without an envelope) and drop it in the box provided. We appreciate this assistance and thank you accordingly.
A CHUCKLE FOR ADVENT
Wayne was returning home from a business trip, bags in hand, and slowly making his way to his vehicle in the crowded airport garage. Suddenly a large dark car screeched to a stop in front of Wayne, and the driver pointed menacingly at him. “Get in!” the driver ordered. “I’ll take you to your car.”
“No!” the man barked back as he threw open his passenger side door.” “Get in!”
Wayne’s eyes now darted around the garage, hoping to find a security guard.
Just then, the driver’s face softened. “Please,” he said. “I’ve been driving up and down for two hours. I can’t find a space to park, and I want yours.”