Sunday, December 14, 2014

Gaudete

Imagine being a Jew during the 500 years before Jesus. God had set up an amazing kingdom with David and Solomon, but because of Israel’s sins and the unfaithfulness of the people, God removed His protection from the kingdom. First, it split in two from internal division. Then the Assyrians conquered the Northern Kingdom. In 586 BC the Babylonians conquered the Southern Kingdom, including Jerusalem, the palace, and, most-importantly, the Temple. They proceeded to exile the Jewish people, spreading them out across Babylon.


God had promised the Jews that land, and David his kingdom to last forever, yet now the kingdom is destroyed and the people are far from their land. The following years included more wars and changes of power: Persians in 539, Greeks in 336, a brief Jewish revival in 142, only to be reconquered by the Romans in 63 BC. This whole time, God’s people are yearning for the promised Messiah (Christ, “Anointed One”). Where is the Son of David who is to come and rule over all nations? When will God free us from the oppression of these foreign nations?


Now, imagine that you are a shepherd, pasturing his sheep on a late night in Bethlehem. You’re among those Jews, awaiting the Messiah. How shocked and amazed would you be if an angel appeared and told you that the Messiah was born in your town, and that you can go see him right now? Finally! God’s promise has been fulfilled! The Messiah is here, and I can see him!


We live in a similar tension as those Jews today. Who knows what’s going to happen in Iraq? Who knows what the next US election will bring? Even in myself, there is unrest between good and evil. There are prophecies of peace, but we witness war and upheaval. The Church recognizes all this, and still proposes to us this idea to rejoice (gaudete) in the Lord always. Rejoicing isn't merely an emotional giddiness, but an optimism because of our confidence in what God has done, is doing, and will do. Even if times are difficult now, God's justice will triumph in the end. We will see the good that was able to come from our difficulties, and how useless worry and gloominess are.
Image credit: te-deum.smugmug.com

We rejoice because not only was the Messiah born, He sacrificed Himself for us. From that Sacrifice are poured forth the Church, the Sacraments, and our very salvation--means for us to overcome our inclination to sin, and live in a relationship with God now and forever, means to draw every man and woman into that relationship. He also promised to come back to us someday and put an end to all evil on earth. This will be the ultimate fulfillment of all prophecies: healing the brokenhearted, freeing captives, making justice and praise spring up before all the nations . . . the kingdom restored and everlasting. No matter how bad things get, in our lives and in the world, we can rejoice because this life is fleeting, but Heaven is eternal, and Jesus invites each of us to have the perfect joy of that eternity with Him.

Today we light the rose candle and don the rose vestments to mark the joy of getting closer to celebrating Christmas. We have passed the half-way point of Advent, our anticipation for the Christmas season is building.


Rejoicing with anticipation,

Casey

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Lord Does Not Delay

photo credit travelsort.com
Jesus ascended into Heaven almost 2,000 years ago, promising to return. Why is He taking so long to come back? Why doesn’t He just return today and end all the world’s suffering? Is He dawdling? Does He enjoy watching us struggle through life? St. Peter tackled that question in Sunday's second reading: “The Lord does not delay His promise, as some regard ‘delay,’ but He is patient with you.” So God is not dawdling, but He is being patient in His return.

Why the patience?  . . . because there are many people who are not in a good relationship with Him. His patience in returning allows those people more time to come back to Him. God does not wish “that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” He is giving us all the more time to develop the best relationship with Him possible. That relationship is determined by the way we live our lives. The choices we make to do what is good and true are choices to draw closer to the source of Goodness and Truth: God Himself. That is why Peter continued: “Since everything is to be dissolved in this way, what sort of persons ought you to be?”

When Jesus returns, St. Peter stated, “everything done on [earth] will be found out.” That is, we will all experience the “General Judgement” where all of everyone’s actions, thoughts, words, and omissions from all time will be known by all. God already knows all of this, but now so too will everyone else. We will see all the good and bad effects of everything we’ve ever done. That’s why St. Peter is so emphatic in encouraging us to be “conducting yourselves in holiness and devotion . . . eager to be found without spot or blemish before Him.”
Hans Memling's The Last Judgment, 1471

This is also why all the other readings on Sunday were about “preparing the way of the Lord.” He is going to come back. How is my relationship with Him? Does it need some improvement? If I have “mountains” or “valleys” of sin that need to be “made low” or “filled in,” how do I do that? The answer is surprisingly simple: tell Him. One good Confession will fill in every valley and make low every mountain, standing as an obstacle to a deeper relationship with Him: “Comfort, give comfort to my people . . . speak tenderly to Jerusalem . . . her guilt is expiated!”

Trying to be the sort of person I ought to be,
Casey Truelove

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