2nd Sunday Ordinary Time (Year B)

In our first reading from the first book of Samuel, we hear of the Lord calling Samuel by name, while he is still a young boy, and the eventual response by this boy on the advice of his mentor Eli: ‘Speak Lord, for your servant is listening,” The reading goes on to say how as Samuel grew, the Lord was with him, and Samuel did not let a single word of the Lord, ‘fall to the ground.’ Samuel was faithful in doing everything that God asked him to do. God’s word and instruction would become more important to him than anything else – his reputation, his comfort, his own desires.

In our Gospel passage from St. John, we hear how John the Baptist points out Jesus to some of his own followers, identifying Jesus as ‘the Lamb of God’ – and two of these disciples follow after Jesus.

John has continued being faithful to his own call of setting the stage for Jesus, identifying Jesus for others, and then stepping back – without consideration for his own position or reputation; he had a substantial number of followers of his own, but John was faithful to his vocation. He was not the priority; preparing the way of the Lord, setting the stage or bringing others to Jesus – and then putting himself in the background – that was his priority.

Later in this same Gospel passage, Andrew brings his brother Simon to meet Jesus – again, someone who has come to know Jesus introduces another person to Jesus – and Jesus in his meeting with Simon changes his name to Peter or Kepha, which means ‘rock’ (in Matthew’s Gospel this is expanded on, with the words, ‘and upon this rock I will build my Church’).

Peter will no longer go back to being known only as Simon – with the change in name has come a fundamental change in his person; and although throughout the gospels we have example after example of how Peter is loyal to Christ, and other times how he fails Christ, ultimately he will show his faithfulness by giving his own life for his faith in Jesus.

Whether it is Samuel, or the Baptist, or Andrew or Peter, repeatedly we hear examples of those who respond to the invitation to come and know God in a more intimate way, a more personal way, surrendering their priorities, their ‘selves’ to that call from God to become more deeply involved with serving God and bringing others to know Him.

Each time we gather for the celebration of the Eucharist, we are responding to that call to come and know Christ more intimately. Each time we approach the altar to receive Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament we are responding to that call, and when we receive Him in Holy Communion, we take Him into ourselves – and if we really and truly believe that Jesus is present in this Sacrament, then we cannot help but be changed at some level of our being. It’s a question of how much awareness we have of that change.

It’s the same with all of the other Sacraments – baptism and confirmation; in reconciliation or anointing of the sick; in matrimony or in Holy Orders; the Church teaches and we believe that Christ is truly present in each of these Sacraments;, and when we enter into any of these Sacraments, we become more than we are on our own; we encounter Jesus in a very intimate way; we are fundamentally changed in our most interior selves.

But it’s a package deal – as Catholics, we don’t pick and choose which Sacrament Christ is present in and which one He is not; either we believe He’s present in all of them, or He’s present in none of them – it’s not a cafeteria. We can’t pick and choose which Sacraments Jesus, who is God, enters into our lives, and which ones He doesn’t.

The challenge then, for us, is to allow that interior change to affect our exterior selves; to bring the influence of Jesus and the love of God into our thoughts, our words and our actions in everything that we say and do. Certainly not so that we can win praise, or be noticed or honoured; rather so that we can be a reflection of Christ who has called each one of us by name; so that we can be like Andrew and introduce our brothers and sisters authentically to Jesus; so that we can be like the Baptist, and point others away from ourselves and towards Jesus; so that when we open ourselves to hear God’s will in our lives, we can each respond with Samuel,

Speak Lord, your servant is listening.”

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Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

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4th Sunday Advent (Year B)

As a society we seem to have lost our sense of amazement, of wonder. Sometimes, when I have watched a large aircraft – like a 747- take off, I consider how I may or may not understand the scientific principles of thrust and aerodynamics and lift that can bring this aircraft up off the ground and into the air; but whenever I see one of these large planes actually leave the ground, I am always amazed that something so big and so heavy can actually fly.

That sheer delight at looking around us, at all of the marvels and movements and sights and sounds in our world seems to be reserved to very small children; the simple; the unsophisticated.

And yet, wonder is one of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit.  We might know it by other names – awe, or fear of the Lord.  But that sense of awe, a truly deep sense of the greatness of the work of God in our own daily existence, is something that perhaps as a people, we tend to diminish, to repress, or even belittle. But wonder can lead to a sense of innocence and purity, which in turn leads to humility, which in itself opens us to a deeper sense of trust that with God all things are possible; and that there is wonder in everything around us; everything is a gift from God.

Sometimes we forget how much we depend on the goodness of God, and how often God has worked in and through our own lives.  And when we forget that, we lose that sense of wonder.

A very wise and dear friend once told me, “Grace is remembering; sin is forgetting.”

It  sometimes helps us to be ‘put in our place’ to gain a proper perspective, and to approach in humility and gratitude, the truly amazing gifts that God pours out on us, both individually and as a people of faith.

Take for example our first reading, relating how King David wanted to build a temple to house God; the God of the desert who had travelled with the children of Israel, and whose ark containing the law was kept in a tent – David reasoned that if he was the king and lived in a palace, then he would use his royal ‘greatness’ to build something great for God.  But it was God, speaking through the prophet Nathan who said to David, ‘you’re forgetting something here…I’m God; I have given you and your people everything that they have; and while you may be a king, you are still one of my creations – what kind of a house could you possibly build for me? What kind of structure could you make that would contain the Almighty – the Eternal – the Creator of All?”

Although well intentioned, the danger in what David proposed was that in building a structure to ‘house’ God or ‘contain’ God, was that – human nature being what it is – there might be a temptation for David to think that he ‘owned’ or could ‘claim’ God; as if somehow humans could control or direct God.  What may start as an attitude or gesture of thanksgiving and praise – could just as easily slide into arrogance and pride.

Contrast that attitude with the response of Mary in St. Luke’s Gospel; when told by the angel that, although a virgin, she would conceive and bear God’s Son, she didn’t propose conditions, or bargain with the angel – she didn’t try to constrain God’s action or attempt to place restrictions on how and when God should or could act in her life;  her response was simply, “Here I am the servant of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word,”

Mary in her simple, humble response illustrates for each of us, the attitude of trust and thanksgiving that we are all encouraged to adopt in our own spiritual journey; we are invited to deepen our sense of wonder at God’s work in our lives and to see in that how truly everything we have and are is a gift, freely given by a God who holds nothing back in His love for us.

This particular time of year provides us with constant reminders of the giftedness of God’s love in the Incarnation of His Son; it provides us with reminders, particularly in the faces of children, of the wonder and beauty in things that perhaps as we have grown into adults, we have taken for granted and lost a sense of amazement at.

But the season of Advent, particularly these readings, also serves to remind us that even if we have lost that sense of wonder and gratitude at all that God has done for us, it is never too late to recapture it, to revive it; to open our hearts to it.  Because as the Angel said to Mary, ‘nothing will be impossible with God”.

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Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!