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Read daily Catholic Advent prayers based on Scripture. Reflect on the importance of the journey toward Christmas Day and the eucharistic meeting at the start of each liturgical week.

Catholic Update

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Advent Daily Reflections

Gathered Around the Table in Hope

Whether we're perched on the edge of a hospital couch anxiously awaiting news of a biopsy or a birth, planning a surprise party or baking Christmas cookies, most things in life go better in the company of others.

Advent is no different. Alone, we might view these four weeks as an ordeal to "get through," four Sundays of subdued songs and muted colors, as we head toward the "real" feast, with its sparkling colors and jingling sounds.

Together, especially in the context of the Sunday Eucharist, there's value not only in the events of Christmas Day, but also in the journey toward that day. Around the table each week, we remind each other that there is meaning in the moment, there is meaning in our meeting together.

For Catholic Christians, the ultimate meeting of one another and God occurs at the eucharistic table. In declaring 2005 a Year of the Eucharist, Pope John Paul II reminds us: "In the humble signs of bread and wine, changed into his body and blood, Christ walks beside us as our strength and our food for the journey, and he enables us to become, for everyone, witnesses of hope."

At the start of each liturgical week as we join with others in this eucharistic meeting, we encounter Christ at the table. Through Communion and communion, both holy, we meet the essentials of life head-on, rooted in our community of believers.

As we move outward each week, closer to the realization of God Incarnate, we leave the eucharistic table to truly meet others at the daily tables of our busy lives: a baby's bassinette, a medicine cart in a hospital hallway, a teacher's desk where young children hover for attention, the checkout counter at a convenience store.

As you move from Table to table this season, use these daily meditations to help focus on ways to be "a witness of hope" to all you encounter.

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First Sunday of Advent

No sleepyheads allowed—

On this first Sunday of the Advent season, it's hard not to notice the quieter, more reflective nature of the liturgy. In my parish, we sing the same Advent refrain a capella each Sunday. At first monotonous in its repetition, as the season progresses it becomes the background mantra to allow me to focus on Advent lessons. Today's lesson: In what unknown way or hour might you be surprised by a chance meeting with God as you mingle with others?

Monday (Is 4:2-6; Mt 8:5-11)

Be a healer

God is our refuge, our shelter, our protection. Just as the centurion believed that Jesus could heal his servant, we must believe in the power each of us has to heal those who are hurting. How can you be the one to fan an ember of hope for another today?

Tuesday (Rom 10:9-18; Mt 4:18-22)

Drop everything

Their utter spontaneity is what I love about Peter and Andrew. Not a moment's hesitation when Jesus invites them to come follow him. Are we as eager to drop our "nets"—a deadline task at work, the daily newspaper, a trip to the gym—when someone who needs the "good news" calls upon us today?

Wednesday (Is 25:6-10a; Mt 15:29-37)

Share your bounty

On the Lord's mountain there is no lack of "juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines." Jesus, who took pity on the hungry crowd of 4,000, wants us to reach deep and share of our own abundance. The opportunities abound in local food pantries, programs for donating animals to small farmers, or Advent giving trees.

Thursday (Is 26:1-6; Mt 7:21, 24-27)

Solid as a rock

Shifting and slippery values are of little use as we face daily decisions about our jobs, our relationships, our futures. There are people in our lives, just like the wise one in today's Gospel, who know the difference between sand and rock. Be humble enough to turn to that person for grounding in your life.

Friday (Is 29:17-24; Mt 9:27-31)

Open your eyes

When we get overwhelmed by the gloom and darkness that permeate our lives, we can't see straight—not only about our own issues but also about our relations with others. It was their faith that allowed the two blind beggars to have their eyes opened. Begin today to admit that no one has the "whole truth," and be open to some nuance just waiting to be discovered.

Saturday (Is 30:19-21, 23-26; Mt 9:35—10:1, 5a, 6-8)

Hit the road

The God of today's Isaiah reading heard the cries of the hungry, the thirsty and the wounded. Today's Gospel shows Jesus taking pity on the crowds and curing their illness. His greatest gift: sending his followers out to do likewise. That's not just the Twelve—it's you and me too.

Second Sunday of Advent

Tap into your inner child

On the playground, in the parish nursery, standing in the grocery checkout line—it's the little children who bind us together with their antics, their guileless questions, their uncanny ability to name the truth. Isaiah paints a harmonious world where wolves lie down with lambs. How about Muslims with Christians, conservatives with liberals, the entitled with the disenfranchised? Maybe we will see that day, but only if we are guided by the wisdom of "the little child," who teaches us a better way.

Monday (Is 35, 1-10; Lk 5:17-26)

Not for the feeble of faith

The friends of the paralyzed man had lots of guts: not only to climb a roof, dragging the pallet with them, but also to lower it through a hole for Jesus' special healing touch. They had lots of faith too, a faith that allows even the trembling and weak of knee to hear the words, "Be strong, fear not!"

Tuesday (Is 40:1-11; Mt 18:12-14)

Leave no lamb behind

Comfort, care and tenderness dominate today's readings. The shepherd who was willing to leave his 99 lambs to retrieve the lost one prods us to be gentle enough to prepare the way for the rebirth of the Christ Child. Reach out and "speak tenderly" to someone lost and hurting today.

Wednesday (Gn 3:9-1, 20; Eph 1:3-6, 11-12; Lk 1:26-38)

Take time to ponder

A lot gets dumped on Eve for being the first to eat the fruit, but maybe it was more a matter of blind impulse than anything; she should have considered the consequences. In contrast, when Mary received the troubling news of her and Elizabeth's impending births, she took a deep breath and a long time to ponder. Take time to reflect on some surprising twist in your own life before leaping into action.

Thursday (Is 41:13-20; Mt 11:11-15)

You're really something!

T. S. Eliot's poetic antihero J.Alfred Prufrock loses the little self-confidence he has when he recalls the powerful men our culture holds up as models, including John the Baptist. Today's Gospel assures us—as hard as it is to fathom—that the least believer among us is greater than John the Baptist. That's reassuring partway through this Advent season when we might need a little boost.

Friday (Is 48:17-19; Mt 11:16-19)

Just be yourself

Jesus and John played to a tough crowd: John was so ascetic they thought he was possessed, while Jesus was too frivolous and chummy with the unwashed of the town. No matter, since the two believed in the wisdom of their actions, as we should when we live out our faith, even if we might be misjudged.

Saturday (Sir 48:1-4, 9-11; Mt 17:9a, 10-13)

Who are the prophets among us?

Clearly Elijah was someone to reckon with as a prophet, with his words that burned with truth and his fiery transport to heaven. When Jesus' disciples questioned when Elijah would return, they were surprised that they had missed him…in the person of John the Baptist. What prophet in our lives have we ignored, bringing a message that might unsettle us, but challenge us to grow?

Third Sunday of Advent

Leap for joy

At today's Eucharist, look around to discover quiet harbingers of joy: those who have cause to be gloomy—a job lost during this costly shopping season, a marriage of many years dissolved, a child struggling with a chronic illness. Despite their sadness, they have allowed their inner desert to bloom. Through their quiet joy, they are special messengers preparing the way of the Lord.

Monday (Nm 24:2-7, 15-17a; Mt 21:23-27)

No easy answers

Jesus refuses to be sidetracked by the challenging questions of the chief priests and the elders when they try to back him into a corner. Instead, he turns the tables, asking them a question. In our prayer, we sometimes seek easy answers, but get none. Just possibly, today's grace may be in the questions, not the answers.

Tuesday (Zep 3:1-2, 9-13; Mt 21:28-32)

Attitude check

Of the two sons invited by their father to work in his vineyard, Jesus suggests that the one who had good intentions, but failed to act on them, is less worthy of the Kingdom than the one who finally got it together to go out to work. As we move through these full-speed-ahead weeks, it's hard to stay focused on our goal of keeping the Advent season holy. Renew that resolve today.

Wednesday (Is 45:6c-8, 18, 21c-25; Lk 7:18b-23)

Get the message?

Once again, we hear John's disciples seeking assurance that Jesus is the one they've been waiting for. His answer is always the same as he reaches out to the neediest: Judge me by my works and not my words. Do our works of justice speak louder than our words?

Thursday (Is 54:1-10; Lk 7:24-30)

Unwavering love

The words of the prophet to Israel are cause for great comfort. Though God's children disappoint him, he will never break his covenant with them or deprive them of his love. In our relations with our parents, children, spouse, it's tempting to give up when they disappoint us. Hold fast to the love.

Friday (Gn 49:2, 8-10; Mt 1:1-17)

Family matters

It's easy to glaze over as we listen to Matthew tick off the ancestors of Jesus, generation by generation. But how wonderful that he takes time to mention those who made the birth of the Messiah possible. Jesus didn't just spring out of nowhere; like us, he's rooted in a real family. Is there some relative you've been neglecting who needs an Advent visit?——————

Saturday will always be December 17 or later—see below.

Fourth Sunday of Advent

Tell me a story

Children never seem to tire of hearing their favorite stories. Whether it's a well-worn bedtime book or a tale of a family mishap, the story just gets better with each retelling. As you listen to Matthew's special take on the Christmas story, savor the details, especially the promise of Emmanuel, "God is with us."

December 17 (Gn 49:2, 8-10; Mt 1:1-17)

God at work

Today we enter into "late Advent," our final time of joyous anticipation of the Christmas feast. Our Gospel today tells us the geneology of Jesus—he was fully incarnate as a human, though he was also divine. All along his lineage, God's plan was playing out. Think of how God's plan is playing out in your life.

December 18 (Jer 23:5-8; Mt 1:18-25)

Man of faith

Joseph took surprising news in faith. He didn't understand, but he trusted God and moved forward. May we do the same.

December 19 (Jgs 13:2-7; Lk 1:5-25)

Show us your ways

Today we hear the beginning of the story of Zechariah. In a way, it's the story of all people. We see and hear God's work around us all day, every day, and we question, we doubt. Today, pray for the gift of faith.

December 20 (Is 7:10-14; Lk 1:26-38)

Give us a sign

When the people in Isaiah's time asked for a sign, they got one that surely puzzled them: A virgin will bear a child named Emmanuel. How troubled Mary must have been! Instead of asking for a sign, however, she responded with the now-famous, "Let it be done to me according to your word." Today, open your eyes and ears for the signs of God's plans for you.

December 21 (Sg 2:8-14 or Zep 3:14-18a; Lk 1:39-45)

The excitement mounts

"Something's coming" begins a song from a classic Broadway musical. It's almost here, Christmas Day. When Elizabeth heard that her cousin Mary would visit to help with her long-awaited pregnancy, how excited she must have been. John too—for we're told, "The infant leaped in her womb." Then Elizabeth blessed her cousin for her belief, for her own "leap of faith."

December 22 (1 Sm 1:24-28; Lk 1:46-56)

Gift of self

After the initial exchange of greetings between Elizabeth and Mary, and Mary's canticle, the Magnificat, we read that "Mary remained with her about three months." How did the two spend those precious months: wondering at their surprising pregnancies, worrying if they'd make it through— "problem" births, delighting at extra time together? Find a few minutes today to just be with someone you love.

December 23— (Mal 3:1-4, 23-24; Lk 1:57-66)

Quiet down

For months, Zechariah was speechless as he waited for the birth, then the naming, of his son, John. His neighbors probably thought he had been cursed. But could a man who blesses God the moment he is free to speak have spent those quiet months resenting his condition? Quiet time can be a blessing. Try to sneak away for a little today.

Christmas Eve

Journey's end

Tonight we'll be snuffing out the Advent candles and drenching ourselves in the colorful lights of Christmas Eve. Like John the Baptist, we are heralds of the good things to come. Zechariah prophesied that "the daybreak on high will visit us…and guide our feet in the way of peace." As you head into the brightness of Christmas Day, recommit yourself to habits of light and peace.

Christmas Day

Break out in song

From the triumphant strains of Handel to the latest pop carol, Christmas is a day synonymous with music. Who wouldn't want to burst into song (even if they can't carry a tune) at the good news, the glad tidings? It's back to the Table of the Lord and the table of our lives, overflowing with Christmas joy and the renewed promise of our salvation.

Elizabeth Bookser Barkley, Ph.D., professor of English at the College of Mount St. Joseph in Cincinnati, is author of Loving the Everyday: Meditations for Moms and Woman to Woman: Seeing God in Daily Life (St. Anthony Messenger Press).

Next: AIDS and the Consistent Ethic of Life (by Kenneth R. Overberg, S.J.)

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