‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’ Sunday Reflections, 2nd Sunday of Advent, Year B

St John the Baptist, El Greco [Web Gallery of Art]

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa)

Gospel Mark 1:1-8 (New Revised  Standard Version, Anglicised CatholicEdition) 

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,

‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
    who will prepare your way;
the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
    “Prepare the way of the Lord,
    make his paths straight”’.

John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, ‘The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.’

Old Road to AuversNorbert Goeneutte [Web Gallery of Art]

Charles Kuralt was a reporter with CBS TV in the USA whose On the Roadstories were a regular part of the Evening News for 25 years. These were offbeat stories about real persons and were often uplifting. I remember one in particular from about 1970 when I, then a young priest, was studying in the USA. It featured an elderly man in a small town in one of the Midwestern states. His town was about 10 kms from the next town but in order to go from one to the other you had to travel 20 or 30 kms. The authorities in both towns were unwilling to build a road to connect them.

So this man started to build a road himself, using logs as a foundation, as I recall.

In 1982 Charles Kuralt gave a lunchtime talk in an auditorium in Minneapolis where I was on a pastoral programme in a hospital for three months, working as a chaplain. I went to hear the broadcaster. Someone in the audience asked him what had become of the road that the old man had begun to build. It turned out that the man had since died. But after his death the authorities completed the road.

This man was engaged in a form of what the Legion of Mary Handbook calls ‘Symbolic Action’, described in these terms: Observe the stress is set on action. No matter what may be the degree of the difficulty, a step must be taken. Of course, the step should be as effective as it can be. But if an effective step is not in view, then we must take a less effective one. And if the latter be not available, then some active gesture (that is, not merely a prayer) must be made which, though of no apparent practical value, at least tends towards or has some relation to the objective. This final challenging gesture is what the Legion has been calling ‘Symbolic Action’. Recourse to it will explode the impossibility which is of our own imagining. And, on the other hand, it enters in the spirit of faith into dramatic conflict with the genuine impossibility.

The sequel may be the collapse of the walls of that Jericho.

The old man featured on TV wasn’t thinking of himself but of those coming after him. Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.

St Mark is repeating the words of Isaiah used in today’s First Reading: In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God (Isaiah 40: 3).

Fr Alfred Delp SJ 

(15 September 1907 – 2 February 1945) [Wikipedia]

Fr Alfred Delp SJ, hanged by the Nazis in Berlin on 2 February 1945, is in many ways an Advent figure. Advent of the Heart is a collection of ‘Seasonal Sermons and Prison Writings – 1941-1944’. The People of Advent is one of his prison meditations, written exactly 70 years ago. I have highlighted some parts.

The herald angel

Never have I entered on Advent so vitally and intensely alert as I am now. When I pace my cell, up and down, three paces one way and three the other, my hands manacled, an unknown fate in front of me, then the tidings of our Lord’s coming to redeem the world and deliver it have a different and much more vivid meaning.

And my mind keeps going back to the angel someone gave me as a present during Advent two or three years ago. It bore the inscription: Be of good cheer. The Lord is near. A bomb destroyed it. The same bomb killed the donor and I often have the feeling that he is rendering me some heavenly aid.

Promises given and fulfilled

It would be impossible to endure the horror of these times – like the horror of life itself, could we only see it clearly enough – if there were not this other knowledge which constantly buoys us up and gives us strength: the knowledge of the promises that have been given and fulfilled. And the awareness of the angels of good tidings, uttering their blessed messages in the midst of all this trouble and sowing seed of blessing where it will sprout in the middle of the night.

Then angels of Advent are not the bright jubilant beings who trumpet the tidings of fulfillment to a waiting world. Quiet and unseen they enter our shabby rooms and our hearts as they did of old. In the silence of the night they pose God’s questions and proclaim the wonders of him with whom all things are possible.

Footsteps of the herald angel 

Advent, even when things are going wrong, is a period from which a message can be drawn. May the time never come when men forget about the good tidings and promises, when, so immured within the four walls of their prison that their very eyes are dimmed, they see nothing but grey days through barred windows placed too high to see out of.

May the time never come when mankind no longer hears the soft footsteps of the herald angel, or his cheering words that penetrate the soul. Should such a time come all will be lost. Then indeed we shall be living in bankruptcy and hope will die in our hearts.

Golden seeds waiting to be sowed 

For the first thing man must do if he wants to raise himself out of this sterile life is to open his heart to the golden seed which God’s angels are waiting to sow in it.

And one other thing; he must himself throughout these grey days go forth as a bringer of good tidings. There is so much despair that cries out for comfort; there is so much faint courage that needs to be reinforced; there is so much perplexity that yearns for reasons and meanings.

Reaping the fruits of divine seeds 

God’s messengers, who have themselves reaped the fruits of divine seeds sown even in the darkest hours, know how to wait for the fullness of harvest.Patience and faith are needed, not because we believe in the earth, or in our stars, or our temperament or our good disposition, but because we have received the message of God’s herald angel and have our selves encountered him.

Trial of Fr Alfred Delp SJ [Source]

The example of the life and death of Fr Alfred Delp SJ and his writings continue to help many Prepare the way of the Lord.

Handel’s Messiah begins with the the opening verses of today’s First Reading (Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11), adapted from the Authorized (King James) Version:

Tenor Recitative. — Isaiah 40:1-3

Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned. The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness: Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

Tenor Air — Isaiah 40:4

Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill made low, the crooked straight, and the rough places plain.

Chorus — Isaiah 40:5

And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.

The first video above features Peruvian tenor Juan Diego Flórez. The second features Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Chamber Choir, based in Toronto.


‘Enter into the joy of your master.’ Sunday Reflections, 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

Woman Sewing, Van Gogh [Web Gallery of Art]

She seeks wool and flax,
and works with willing hands. 

(Proverbs 31:13, First Reading)

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa)

Gospel Matthew 25:14-30 [Shorter form, 14-15, 19-21] (New Revised  Standard Version, Anglicised CatholicEdition) 

Jesus told his disciples this parable:

 ‘For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. [The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.] After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, “Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.” His master said to him, “Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.” [And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, “Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.” His master said to him, “Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.” Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, “Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.” But his master replied, “You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”]

Jesse Robredo 

(27 May 1958 – 18 August 2012) [Wikipedia]

There was real sorrow throughout the Philippines when news broke that the small plane in which Jesse Robredo, Secretary of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) in the administration of President Benigno Aquino III of the Philippines had crashed offshore while trying to make and emergency landing on Masbate Island. Secretary Robredo had been on official business in Cebu but wanted to be present at a swimming competition in which his daughter was taking part in their home town, Naga City in the heart of the Bicol Region at the southern end of Luzon. So he hired a small plane to fly from Cebu to Naga City.

Naga City, Camarines Sur [Wikipedia]

During his six terms as elected Mayor of Naga City Jesse Robredo was noted for being close to ordinary people and for working for the improvement of the lives of all Nagueños. He saw his role as one of service.

Shortly after the Secretary’s death Fr Lucio Rosaroso, a chaplain to the Philippine National Police (PNP), spoke in a homily at a Mass for the soul of Jesse Robredo of the sense of service that he had:  Service is a time-honored value, however, the span of time in service does not matter — it may be long or short. What is more important is how much love one puts into his or her service.

The late Secretary Robredo, though his service to our country was cut short due to his untimely demise, but that is not what matters. What matters most is the LOVE that he put into his service. By that he gives us the best example of servant-leadership, he stressed.

Fr Rosaroso continued: Robredo’s heart was after the heart of the Good Shepherd. He was not only a good public servant but first and foremost a father to his very own family.

I remember reading at the time of his death that Jesse Robredo, who was based in Manila during his time as Secretary of the DILG, made a point of going home each weekend to Naga City to be with his family. By air this takes about 45 minutes but by road maybe six or seven hours, as I recall from going there from Manila a number of times in the 1990s when I was a vocation director of the Columbans. It’s never easy for a politician or someone in public service to balance family life with public responsibilities. But Jesse Robredo made his wife and three daughters a priority.

Our Lady of Peñafrancia [Wikipedia]

The shrine of Our Lady of Peñafrancia is in Naga City.

I remember reading too that the day before his death Jesse Robredo went to confession at a church run by the Divine Word Missionaries in Quezon City, the largest component in area and size in Metro Manila. Fr Rosarosa of the PNP in his homily testified to the fact the DILG Secretary confessed regularly: The late secretary used to come here in Crame Church. In fact, every week he would go to confession. We are six priests here in Camp Crame and each one of us experienced being asked by the late secretary to administer to him the Sacrament of Reconciliation from time to time. He really believed in the sanctifying graces of the sacraments. He was a practicing and devout Catholic. He was a holy man in our midst!

Jesse Robredo’s confession the day before he died is a powerful example of what St Paul speaks about in today’s Second Reading: For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night . . . But you, beloved, are not in darkness, for that day to surprise you like a thief (1 Thess 5:1-6).

The shorter version of the Gospel has a specific focus: You have been trustworthy in a few things. I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master. Because President Aquino saw how well Jesse Robredo had managed Naga City he made him responsible for local government throughout the Philippines. 

The longer version shows how harshly the master dealt with the servant who simply buried what had been given to him. The investigation into the accident that killed Jesse Robredo suggests that three people lost their lives because others were not trustworthy in a few things.

The parable of the talents reminds us that whatever gifts God has given each of are not just for ourselves but are meant to be used in the service of others. What we do with them has consequences in the lives of others. Jesse Robredo, whose Catholic faith was at the centre of his life, used his talents in serving the people of Naga City from the time he was elected Mayor at the age of 29 and later in serving the people of the Philippines. He gave his wife and children first priority. The reason for his wanting to fly from Cebu to Naga, a journey that ended in his death, is a testimony to this.

The failure of some to use their talents, to carry out the responsibilities they were given, led to unnecessary deaths.

When the Lord will come like a thief in the night which words do we wish to hear from him: As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth – harsh words that call us to be responsible for what God has given us – or you have been trustworthy in a few things . . . enter into the joy of your master?

Antiphona ad communionem   Communion Antiphon  Mk 11:23-24

Amen dico vobis, quidquid orantes petitis,
credite quia accepietis, et fiet vobis.

Amen, I say to you, Whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you will receive, and it shall be given to you, says the Lord.

This is also the Communion Antiphon for Mass in the Extraordinary Form on the 23rd Sunday after Pentecost.