All Dominican friars before they are professed or ordained (in fact all men and women in religious orders and congregations) spend their first year in the Order as novices. This novitiate year is dedicated to living Dominican life in a focused way. The men learn our way of life through communal and personal prayer, time in study and contemplation, community life at meals and time together, ministry, and classes in Dominican history, spirituality, the vows, and other topics. Whatever the novice was doing before he entered, whether he was a college student or was working full time, he now follows a different schedule. He learns obedience and becomes obedient to God’s call in his life.
The angel of God came to Joseph in a dream, as he did with so many great figures in the Old Testament – Adam, Abraham, Israel. As with each of them, Joseph is given a task: he is to take Mary into his home. The rest of the command given to him seems far more mundane than bringing about the rise of a nation of Chosen People. The angel simply tells him that Mary will bear a son, and Joseph is to name him Jesus. How simple a command, but how enormous the significance! Joseph was charged in a special way was to proclaim the name of Jesus – in fact, this is the only thing Scriptures tell us Joseph spoke. In doing so, he announces the fulfillment of the prophecy of Jeremiah, who promised the coming of the savior.
Today’s readings can teach us many lessons. One is that Jesus was born of a human family and culture filled with saints and sinners and less than ideal relationships. These saints and sinners are not separate people. We are all a mixture of both. Yet it is in this human messiness and imperfection that God’s saving work is carried out. This is important to remember as our families and communities spend extra time together during the Christmas Season and we strive to love in a way that will allow justice and peace to flourish.
In January of 2020, we first read the news about a mysterious virus that had made its way to our shores, first in the northeast and then spreading quickly throughout the land. At this time COVID 19 has taken the lives of almost three quarters of a million people in this country alone. If the first wave was not bad enough, its variants Delta and Omicron have now made their appearance.
St. John of the Cross lived in sixteenth century Spain. Buoyed by New World gold, the nation reached its zenith in power and prestige. St. John questioned the affluence, at least as much as it meant a relaxation in religious life. Along with St. Teresa of Avila, John set about reforming the Carmelite Order. Poverty characterized the reform’s exterior discipline. More critically, the reformers concentrated on prayer and contemplation.
I witnessed two missionary sisters from New Orleans joyously serving in a Mexican American parish way across Phoenix from my primarily Anglo Catholic high school. I didn’t realize they were Dominicans. I simply knew I was enraptured. Thanks to my experience in their catechetical program every Sunday morning, I entered the novitiate of the Eucharistic Missionaries of St. Dominic. Sr. Fara Impastato, among the first women in the US to earn a doctorate in theology in the 1950s, blended Thomistic theology, Vatican II breakthroughs, and the arts, in our formation program. Though I was terribly homesick, I stayed because I wanted to know God, and not just about God, as Sr. Fara and the other sisters did. In 2009 my congregation joined with six others to form the Dominican Sisters of Peace. I now live and minister with an even greater frame of reference because our sisters were raised in many states, as well as in Nigeria, Mexico, Vietnam, Peru, China, Ireland, and Hungary.
Today is popularly known as “Gaudete Sunday,” or the “Sunday of Rejoicing.” Today the words of the Prophet Zephaniah - “Shout for joy, O daughter Zion!” - remind us that our Advent waiting, and expectation are almost at an end. Throughout Advent, the readings and the Church’s liturgy have been forming our hearts and minds to watch, wait, and cultivate inner alertness. Of course, experience tells us that waiting can be difficult, and the interior alertness to which the Gospel calls us often exceeds the limits of our wounded and unsteady hearts. Knowing this firsthand, the last thing we may want to do is to yell “Rejoice!”
The prophet, on fire with the Spirit of the Lord, Heralds the Holy One’s coming. Here the prophet comes, burning, set all ablaze; A fiery brand for all to see, announcing The Advent of the Holy One; The Word comes forth.
We are almost halfway through our Advent journey. Next Sunday, the third candle of joy will be shining on the Advent wreath. Priests and deacons are allowed to wear the traditional rose-colored vestments reserved for the third Sunday (Gaudete - Latin for Rejoice).
Last year at this precise point in time, my family was experiencing a shattering of all things good which were connected to love, peace, and unity. Diseases of biblical proportions, unlike any I had ever seen in hospitals, took residence inside millions of people in every country in our world. They engulfed my family’s world too in painful ways as we spent Advent and Christmas outside in the cold with masks and social distancing. Where was hope? Where was unity? Where were we to turn for shelter, protection, and peace in this bone chilling wilderness?
“Oh Syria, my love I hear your moaning in the cries of the doves. I hear your screaming cry.” Lament for Syria, written by Amineh Abou Kerech, winner of the 2017 Betjeman Poetry Prize for 10–13-year-old.
Stories about St. Nicholas spread from his home in Turkey up to Russia, where he is still a very popular saint. Through the centuries, people passed on stories of him across the most northern parts of Europe, then to Germany, France, and England, and finally to the United States. The children in every country gave St. Nicholas a name in their own language, and in the United States, and other places, he is Santa Claus. Nicholas lived in a seaside town named Myra, which is in the country we now call Turkey. Ever since he was a small child, Nicholas loved God more than anything. He studied hard, prayed often, and followed Jesus by helping the poor. As an adult he was consecrated a Bishop. Nicholas is revered throughout the ages because he loved God and God’s people. His service to the poor often included bringing toys for children.
In this reading, we are given very specific details about the moment that John the Baptist, hearing God’s word to him, began the work to which God had called him. We hear Luke tell us that “In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John…in the wilderness.” It was time for John to respond. It was time for him to act. And he did.
Today’s First Reading and Gospel offer us an effective illustration of the inherent tension in the Advent season. In the early days of Advent, we hear many readings having to do with the Kingdom as it will be at the end of time when Christ comes again. However, we also now begin to hear in the Gospel the way in which Christ announces the coming of the Kingdom, not as a far-off event but in the here and now. Rather than being contradictory, these two perspectives of the coming of the Kingdom are intimately connected, and the Advent season is the perfect time to make it concrete in our daily lives.
Advent is pre-eminently the liturgical season of promise and fulfillment. The first scripture for daily Eucharist usually presents the promise and the gospel scripture presents the fulfillment. The promise is often presented in the scriptures taken from the prophecies of Isaiah. The excerpt quoted above from today's first scripture is an example of the promise that in the "day of the Lord" "out of gloom and darkness, the eyes of the blind shall see..." and the gospel scripture features the fulfillment in the restoration of sight to two blind men in the Gospel According to Matthew, a gospel that consistently presents Jesus as the fulfillment of all the prophecies of the Messiah.
“Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. (Mt 7:24) So too our lives need to be grounded solidly in our relationship with our God. If that relationship is not there, then ultimately our projects will not really be successful. As we enter this new liturgical year, it can be a good time to examine the foundation of all we do and renew our commitment to ground ourselves more deeply on God the rock of our lives.
Jesus is moved by compassion because of his nature as God. He’s attentive to the hungers of people, is aware of their weaknesses, and inspires the disciples to be actively attentive to their needs. Our Lord is never detached of human suffering and is always showing us about the proper way to act.
“Apostolic”. It’s one of the four marks of the church that we recite each time the community gathers as part of the Apostle’s Creed. By saying it is a mark of the church, we mean it’s an essential characteristic. At the same time, it has multiple meanings. It means that the church is rooted in the Apostles, that there is an unbroken line that can be drawn from today’s church to the church of the Apostles. While close scrutiny might suggest that this is more ideal than real, it still indicates a kind of relationship to those first Christian communities that makes it accurate to say that we have inherited the Apostolic tradition. This tradition identifies the church today as Christian, the church founded by Christ and his followers.