Sunday, December 24, 2017

Let It Be Done To Me: Fourth Sunday of Advent

Fra Angelico, the 15th century Dominican Friar and artist, painted several Annunciation scenes.  But one, called the Annunciation of Cortona - named after where he painted it - is most interesting.  Like the others, it depicts Mary and Gabrielle conversing in a columned courtyard.  And in this one, the dialogue between the two figures is recorded between them (in Latin, of course.)  The Angel announces that the Holy Spirit will come upon Mary and that the Most High will overshadow her.  Mary responds, "I am the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done to me according to your word."  Makes sense.  It's almost as if Fra Angelico is giving us the closed-captioning version.

But what is most interesting, is that Mary's response is written upside-down, left to right.  To read it, you would have to stand on your head and read it backwards.  It is said that the artist never explained why he did it this way.  One guess is that it is directed to God, and so God, from heaven above, would not have to stand on God's head!  For us, though, I think there might be a more inviting explanation.

Mary utters her Fiat, her Yes, her "let it be done," and her world is quiet literally turned upside down. She was betrothed, probably making wedding plans and dreaming about her future "ordinary" life with Joseph.  But God had other plans for her (and for the world!)  God would send forth a Son to save and redeem; God would make possible what was impossible before; God would do something totally new.  And this would turn Mary's world upside-down because she was part of that plan, and with those beautiful words she says "YES."  Yes to God's saving plan.  Yes to bringing forth Jesus into the world.  Yes to allowing God to turn her world upside-down.
One writer commenting on this scripture notes that "She spoke not from a position of ability, but of availability."  And here is what I think Mary offers us today in this Gospel passage.  Just as Mary made herself available to God and to God's plans, so should we.  Even if that means we go where we might not choose.  Even if that means we are taken out of our comfort zones.  Even if that means our world is knocked upside-down. 

We are invited, like Mary, to trust that the Holy Spirit will also come upon us.  That the Most High will overshadow us with mercy, with peace, with love.  We are invited, like Mary, to say our own "Fiat," or own "Yes," our own "Let it be done."  May we be available to God so that God can turn our world upside-down.

Blessings on your Advent (even if this last "week" is really short!)

Sunday, December 17, 2017

A Voice Crying Out: Third Sunday of Advent

If you have every watched the reality show/music competition "The Voice" you know that the first round is a "blind audition."  The singer begins to perform while the judges are seated in chairs with their backs turned to the contestant.  All the judges have to go by is the voice that they hear.  Not appearances, not stage presence.  Only the voice.  Now if the judges like what they hear, they hit a big button and the chair swings around and they can finally "see" the voice.  (One of my favorite blind auditions comes from "The Voice Italy".  You can check it out here.)

So what does this have to do with the Third Sunday of Advent?  I think it illustrates what we hear in the Gospel this Sunday.  Today, we hear John  the Baptist identify himself as "a voice crying out in the desert, make straight the way of the Lord."  We know from last week that he wasn't much to look at and probably didn't have the best presence: a scraggly camel hair tunic and dining on locusts (imagine his breath!) But his voice must have resonated with people because they came out to meet him, and were touched by his message of repentance and forgiveness of sins.  In a sense, they liked the voice they heard, and decided to "turn around" to see and heed the voice singing out.  Oftentimes in the New Testament, conversion really means "to turn around," to return to God, to turn so that we no longer have our backs to God, but we are able to see God once again.
Constantinople, c. 1300.  From

John's message (his voice) is not meant just for the people of ancient Israel, but also for us.  We have a week left in Advent, our time or preparation for greeting Christ when he comes.  Even if short, that's more than enough time for us to begin to turn around, to hear the voice of God calling us back, to work towards conversion in whatever area of our life we might need it.  Let's all hit the big button so that we, too, can swing around and return to our God.  In doing so, we will straighten out way of the Lord so that we can joyfully receive him when he comes to us.

Blessings on your Advent!

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Prepare Ye the Way: The Second Sunday of Advent

On this Second Sunday of Advent, we are introduced once again to John the Baptist.  And we remember that he was a bit of an odd guy.  He wears a shirt of camel hair and a leather belt aroud his waste.  He eats locusts and wild honey.  Probably not exactly the kind of person we would aspire to be.  (Although, I'm wondering if he could have shopped at Trader Joe's or Whole Foods!) 

But I think that our readings this Sunday invite to be exactly like John the Baptist.  Not that we need to wear camel shirts (although it looks like you can buy them online!  Or you could choose another alternative - see below.) And not that we have to eat locusts and grasshoppers (even chocolate covered.) 
You can find just about anything on
We are invited to be like John the Baptist in that we are called to "Prepare the way of the Lord."  This is John's mission, and ours.  So how do we do this?  I think our readings give us a nice image.  We are told (both in Isaiah and in the Gospel) that John's work takes place in the desert.  For the people of the Bible, the desert wasn't so much a hot sandy expanse as we might think of it, but the desert was a barren, dry, scraggly wasteland.  It was the hideout of robbers and bandits (so it was dangerous) and it was a symbol for a place of chaos and disorientation.  Just think of Moses and the people wandering around the desert for 40 years!

It is to this place of chaos that John - and us - are called to prepare the way of the Lord, to make the presence of the Lord known.  In the midst of chaos and disorientation - maybe someone who has recently lost a loved one or is facing a serious illness, maybe a family whose wage-earner has just lost a job, maybe an immigrant who is scared, maybe a parent who isn't sure if her child will be able to receive much needed medicine, maybe someone who is lonely during this holiday season - in the midst of all these (and much more) we can fill in valleys and straighten out paths and smooth rugged plains by being voices that cry out God's love and hope, by being people of compassion and mercy.  By proclaiming by our words and actions that Jesus is present even in the midst of the desert.  We do this by sitting quielty with one who is grieving or ill.  We do this by giving a gift or some food to an agency that works with those struggling financially.  We do this by uring our elected officials to base decisions on a higher moral authority and not on patisan politics.  We do this by visiting neighbors and friends who don't have much family around.  In these ways (and many more), we prepare the way of the Lord, and we point to the one who will come.
St. John the Baptist at the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome

As we continue our Advent journey, let's reflect on how each of us can be like John the Baptist and Prepare the way of the Lord!

Blessings on your Advent!

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Be Watchful!: The First Sunday of Advent

Be watchful!  Be alert!

We hear this admonition four times from Jesus in the Gospel (Mk 13:33-37) as we begin the Season of Advent this year.  We know that Advent is a time of preparation  A time to prepare our hearts to celebrate the coming of Christ at Christmas.  And also a time to prepare our hearts to celebrate the coming of Christ when he returns in glory in his Second Coming.

So when Jesus tells us to be watchful, does he mean that we should watch the calendar so as to count down the days until Christmas?  Does he mean that we should watch the skies for his coming again so that we are not caught off guard?

I think the answer to both of these is Yes.  But I also think there is something more.

Advent invites us to not only look to the past or towards the future, but Advent also invites us to look at the present moment.  To be watchful and to be alert for how Jesus comes to us right now.  To be watchful and to be alert to the presence of Jesus in our midst in every moment of our lives.  When we open our hearts to Jesus in prayer.  When we try to listen to God's voice in our hearts or God's voice in Scripture.  When we forgive someone who has hurt us or when we seek forgiveness for a wrong we have done.  When we receive an unexpected phone call from a friend or a smile of a loved one or a random conversation with a stranger as we wait in line.  When we receive the grace of patience or courage or perseverance or understanding or whatever we need in the moment.  When we find a moment of silence in the middle of a rushed holiday season.  Even when we struggle with a difficulty or have a bad day.  When...  When... When... Just look around, be watchful, because Jesus comes to us in many different ways every day.  But we need to be watching for it so that we realize it!

The Season of Advent offers us a school of watchfulness, a sacred time when we can stop and learn how to watch so that we can see how Jesus comes to us each and every day of our lives.  To cultivate this attitude of watchfulness, I offer three simple suggestions

1) Spend a few moments of Quiet each day to be aware of and to reflect on how Christ has visited you during the day
2) Encounter the mercy of God through Reconciliation in which Jesus comes and says "You are forgiven"
3) DO something that helps others see Jesus come to them (such as contributing to a charitable cause or standing up for others' rights or just smiling at your coworkers or any of the Works of Mercy.)

As we enter into the Season of Advent, let us be watchful and alert...for the child born in the stable at Bethlehem...for the coming of Christ in glory...for Jesus as he comes to us right now, in our daily living.

Be watchful!  Be alert!

Blessings on your Advent!