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Summary: Jesus enjoins us to do the will of the Father, but learning how to do God's will is a lifelong journey.

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Thursday of the 1st Week in Advent

Joy of the Gospel

When I read this passage from the great prophet of Advent, the Hebrew priest Isaiah, my memory goes back almost ten years to our pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Both the Old and New Testaments contain a recurring theme, one we see most perfectly in the Canticle of the Blessed Virgin on her Visitation to Elizabeth. There Mary sings, “God has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.” In Isaiah today we see this kind of reversal of fortunes: “he has brought low the inhabitants of the height, the lofty city. He lays it low, lays it low to the ground, casts it to the dust. The foot tramples it, the feet of the poor, the steps of the needy.” In Nazareth we learned that there are, indeed, both Jews and Palestinians living in the state of Israel, both races being citizens, but the Jews had the houses and settlements on the hills, and the Palestinians, Muslims and Christians alike, were in the low-rent districts down the hill. No political commentary here, but we can see that not much has changed, and I suspect the Holy Family would still be part of the downstairs servants in our day. The Church must still be the refuge of the poor and weak.

In these first days of Advent, our focus should be on the second coming of Christ, and preparing to receive the Lord when He returns in glory. Then, if He does not come back by the 17th of December, the focus changes to our commemoration of His first coming, His humble appearance as a child, and our reception of Christ-child in our hearts. “Prepare ye the way of the Lord.” We must build our spiritual structure, the foundation of our lives, on the strong rock of believing Jesus and doing the will of the Father.

The Holy Father writes about our pastoral attitude, and reminds us that our religion is not a form of slavery. We must do the will of the Father, but recognize that not all those who are seeking happiness will see that as liberation. They need to be brought patiently into an understanding of the Father’s will, that He wants them to be free and joyful. We who lead “need to accompany with mercy and patience the eventual stages of personal growth as these progressively occur.” Pope Francis reminds priests that the confessional is not “a torture chamber but rather an encounter with the Lord’s mercy which spurs us on to do our best. A small step, in the midst of great human limitations, can be more pleasing to God than a life which appears outwardly in order but moves through the day without confronting great difficulties. Everyone needs to be touched by the comfort and attraction of God’s saving love, which is mysteriously at work in each person, above and beyond their faults and failings.”

He continues: “We see then that the task of evangelization operates within the limits of language and of circumstances. It constantly seeks to communicate more effectively the truth of the Gospel in a specific context, without renouncing the truth, the goodness and the light which it can bring whenever perfection is not possible. A missionary heart is aware of these limits and makes itself ‘weak with the weak... everything for everyone’ (1 Cor 9:22). It never closes itself off, never retreats into its own security, never opts for rigidity and defensiveness. It realizes that it has to grow in its own understanding of the Gospel and in discerning the paths of the Spirit, and so it always does what good it can, even if in the process, its shoes get soiled by the mud of the street.”

“A Church which ‘goes forth’ is a Church whose doors are open. Going out to others in order to reach the fringes of humanity does not mean rushing out aimlessly into the world. Often it is better simply to slow down, to put aside our eagerness in order to see and listen to others, to stop rushing from one thing to another and to remain with someone who has faltered along the way. At times we have to be like the father of the prodigal son, who always keeps his door open so that when the son returns, he can readily pass through it. The Church is called to be the house of the Father, with doors always wide open. One concrete sign of such openness is that our church doors should always be open, so that if someone, moved by the Spirit, comes there looking for God, he or she will not find a closed door. There are other doors that should not be closed either. Everyone can share in some way in the life of the Church; everyone can be part of the community, nor should the doors of the sacraments be closed for simply any reason. This is especially true of the sacrament which is itself ‘the door’: baptism. The Eucharist, although it is the fullness of sacramental life, is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.” We who communicate frequently realize this. We aren’t here because we are terrific; we come here and to Mass because we are needy.

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