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November 25, 2009
Breaking Open the Word
By James Cavanagh
Nov. 29: Fisrt Sunday of Advent
Overview: Jeremiah was a prophet before and during the Babylonian exile (605-537 B.C.). In the early part of his ministry he warned his people that their nation was in grave danger because of a lack of faith, corrupt leadership and immorality. God used the Babylonians to punish Israel for her sins by destroying Jerusalem and sending her inhabitants into exile. This week’s first reading comes from a section of Jeremiah called “the book of consolation.” The exile was dragging on and the people were getting discouraged. They were beginning to abandon God and be absorbed by the surrounding culture. Jeremiah encouraged the exiles by reminding them that God “will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and Judah”—that the kingdom of David would be restored. The second reading strikes a similar note as Paul urges the Thessalonians to stand firm in the faith despite the difficulties arising from living in a culture that was hostile to the Church. He implores them to “abound in love” and be “blameless in holiness” so they’ll have the spiritual fortitude to endure the threats against them. The first Sunday of Advent marks the beginning of a new liturgical year, which this year revolves around the Gospel of Luke. Jesus’ words about the “end” take place right before his passion and his warning about vigilance and prayer will be repeated in the Garden of Gethsemane a few days later. Thus “that day” has three meanings: first it’s meant for the disciples who were going to experience tribulation which Jesus says is imminent. Second it was for the early Christians to encourage them during times of persecution. Finally, it’s meant for us who have our own “tribulations” to deal with, which includes our “battle against the possessive and dominating self.”
Key verse: “Be vigilant at all times and pray” (Lk 21:34).
“Catechism of the Catholic Church”: “The battle against the possessive and dominating self requires vigilance (and) sobriety of heart. When Jesus insists on vigilance, he always relates it to himself, to his coming on the last day and every day: today” (No. 2730).
Pope Benedict XVI: “What must I do to succeed at being human? It is not enough to earn money and exert influence. For life to succeed I must in the midst of it set my sights on eternal life. I must think of the fact that God has a task in mind for me in the world and will ask me afterwards what I have done with my life” (“The Yes of Jesus Christ”).
Life application: Growth in holiness and love requires vigilance and effort. Life is a struggle, and sometimes so is prayer. Time is one of our most precious commodities and the thing that everyone seems to have so little of. But setting aside specific times for prayer is essential if you want to grow spiritually.