Each issue carries an imprimatur from
the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. Reprinting prohibited
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.
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)
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 gymwhen 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 straightnot 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 9:3510:1, 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
Twelveit'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
lineit'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 usas hard as it is to fathomthat 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 gloomya 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)
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)
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
Saturday will always be December 17 or latersee 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 Jesushe 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
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 toofor we're told, "The
infant leaped in her womb." Then Elizabeth blessed her cousin for her belief, for her own "leap
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)
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.
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
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.
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
Next: AIDS and the Consistent Ethic of Life (by Kenneth R. Overberg, S.J.)