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Advent is a season of joyful anticipation—of hope! Sister Melannie Svoboda offers a daily reflection on the Scripture readings of Advent 2012. Each reflection leads to a suggested action and a short prayer.

Advent Day by Day: Hope for a Better World
By: Sister Melannie Svoboda, SND


Each issue carries an imprimatur from the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. Reprinting prohibited
Advent is a season of hope. I like this definition: “Hope is the belief that a better world is possible.” We hope for a better world because God promises us one. And God shows us how to bring this about: by following Jesus’ way of selfless loving.

The weeks of Advent are often hectic. Let the following reflections serve as an oasis of calm amid the holiday rush, inviting you to pause and consider what the coming of Jesus really means. May the rich Scripture readings of Advent enliven your faith and love as together we build that better world—hope-fully!
 
FIRST SUNDAY: ABOUND IN LOVE
Jer 33:14-16/1 Thes 3:12–4:2/Lk 21:25-28, 34-36
Through Jeremiah, God promises the Israelites a better future. How consoling these words must have been for people suffering at the hands of the Babylonians. How consoling for us, too, amid personal and societal trials of all kinds. Then St. Paul urges the Thessalonians to “abound in love,” a love demonstrated by one’s conduct. In the Gospel, Jesus exhorts us to “Be vigilant.”
Action: Be vigilant today and look for opportunities to abound in love.
Prayer: God of Love, move my heart with your words this Advent.

MONDAY: THE POTENTIAL IN TREE STUMPS
Is 2:1-5/Mt 8:5-11
A tree stump is a sad sight, a reminder of where a tree once stood. Yet Isaiah says the Messiah will come from the good-for-nothing stump of Israel. Using this vivid image, Isaiah reminds us that appearances can deceive, potentiality can be hidden, and marvelous things can emerge from unlikely places.
Action: Try to see potential in one unpromising situation.
Prayer: God of Growth, help me remember that appearances can be deceiving.
 
TUESDAY: RECLAIMING A SENSE OF WONDER
Is 11:1-10/Lk 10:21-24
Jesus said that children are the epitome of discipleship. They take delight in simple things: a flower, a kitten, a favorite toy, a game of peek-a-boo. Advent is a good time to slow down and re-appreciate those things we take for granted. We can start with the people in our daily lives. Then move on to things like a cup of coffee, an orange, a winter sunset, falling snow, the scent of pine.
Action: Re-appreciate someone or something.
Prayer: Jesus, help me to reclaim a childlike wonder.
 
WEDNESDAY: GOD'S IS EXTRAVAGANT
Is 25:6-10a/Mt 15:29-37
Isaiah announces that God will serve a meal of “juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines.” Mmm! In the Gospel, Jesus feeds a huge crowd with so much food that the leftovers fill seven baskets. Both readings proclaim God’s extravagance. As a friend of mine says, “If God made chocolate chip cookies, they’d be crammed with chips!”
Action: Do something extravagant today.
Prayer: Extravagant God, help me to love where I’m holding back.
 
THURSDAY: WHOSE SIDE ARE YOU ON?
Is 26:1-6/Mt 7:21, 24-27
Today’s first reading raises this question: whose side is God on? God is on the side of the poor and needy; God “humbles those who dwell on high.” If we’re on God’s side, then we too must be on the side of the poor and needy.
Action: Support your local food pantry or homeless shelter.
Prayer: God of those in need, I want to be on your side.
 
FRIDAY: HELP ME TO SEE
Is 29:17-24/Mt 9:27-31
In today’s Gospel, two blind men pester Jesus with their cry, “Have pity on us!” Jesus asks them, “Do you believe that I can [cure your blindness]?” They answer, “Yes, Lord.” He touches their eyes, and they can see. Even if we’re not physically blind, we have our blind spots, areas in our lives we neglect or refuse to look at.
Action: Identify one of your blind spots. How might you improve your vision in this area?
Prayer: Jesus, help me to see things as you see them.
 
SATURDAY—IMMACULATE CONCEPTION: MARY IS LIKE US
Gn 3:9-15, 20/Eph 1:3-6, 11-12/Lk 1:26-38
The Church has given Mary many titles: Immaculate Conception, Mother of God, First Disciple, Refuge of Sinners, Queen of Heaven. But Luke reminds us that Mary was fully human, like us. She was fearful, confused, and questioning. In the end, though, she surrendered herself totally to God in faith and love.
Action: Have a talk with Mary today.
Prayer: Mary, help me discern and embrace God’s designs for me.
 
SECOND SUNDAY: PARTNERS WITH GOD
Bar 5:1-9/Phil 1:4-6, 8-11/Lk 3:1-6
A favorite poster reads: “Resign as general manager of the universe.” Too often I try to manage and save others—family, friends, my religious congregation, the Church. But St. Paul speaks of the Philippians’ “partnership for the gospel,” reminding them that they don’t proclaim the good news alone, but in alliance with God and others. The bottom line: we do not save the world; God does.
Action: Hand over an anxiety to God today.
Prayer: Partner God, remind me that you are the manager of the universe.
 
MONDAY: FAITH AND LOVE ARE CREATIVE
Is 35:1-10/Lk 5:17-26
I marvel at the ingenuity of the paralytic’s friends. Unable to get through the door of the house, they climbed on the roof and lowered their friend—stretcher and all—through a hole in the tiles.Their resourcefulness is more than merely clever: it shows their deep love for their friend and their faith in Jesus.
Action: Do something creative for someone else.
Prayer: Loving Jesus, make my faith deeper and my love more ingenious.


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TUESDAY: APPRECIATING THE PARTICULAR
Is 40:1-11/Mt 18:12-14
Although he sometimes addressed large crowds, Jesus appreciates the particular, the individual, the one. His parable of the lost sheep demonstrates how he goes out of his way to find the one lost sheep. How consoling! Jesus doesn’t relate to us as part of a holy herd, but as unique individuals whom he knows and loves.
Action: See people as individuals today.
Prayer: Good Shepherd, know me, love me.
 
WEDNESDAY—OUR LADY OF GUADALUPE: ADAPTING OURSELVES TO OTHERS
Zec 2:14-17 or Rv 11:19a, 12:1-6a, 10ab/Lk 1:26-38 or 1:39-47
Juan Diego was a simple peasant, not a bishop, priest, or nobleman, yet Mary spoke to him in his local dialect. She sensitively adapted herself to his culture. How do I treat “ordinary” people—store clerks, waiters/waitresses, maintenance personnel?
Action: Treat everyone you meet today with respect.
Prayer: Our Lady of Guadalupe, pray for us!
 
THURSDAY: MAKING THE WORLD A BETTER PLACE
Is 41:13-20/Mt 11:11-15
Once again, God makes some extraordinary promises: “I will help you. . . . I will not forsake [the afflicted and the needy].” Such promises don’t mean God does all the work. The social activist Dorothy Day said, “No one has the right to sit down and feel hopeless. There’s too much work to do.” How am I working to build a better tomorrow?
Action: Recycle something.
Prayer: Gracious God, help me to build a better tomorrow.
 
FRIDAY: BEWARE OF SPIRITUAL IDENTITY THEFT
Is 48:17-19/Mt 11:16-19
The people rejected John the Baptist because he was too austere; they rejected Jesus because he wasn’t austere enough. Good thing Jesus didn’t get his identity from what the crowds wanted him to be. No, he got it from his beloved Abba. Do other people or current fads ever determine your identity?
Action: Identity yourself with Jesus by something you say or do.
Prayer: Jesus, may my loving relationship with you determine who I am.
 
SATURDAY: REMEMBERING WHY THE BABY CAME
Sir 48:1-4, 9-11/Mt 17:9a, 10-13
At this halfway mark of Advent, we’re inundated with Christmas music and decorations. But plopped in the midst of this preparatory joy is Jesus’ grim prediction of his passion. We must never forget why this sweet baby came: to free us from sin and death. How? Through his self-sacrificing love on Calvary.
Action: Thank Jesus or someone else for their love.
Prayer: Loving Jesus, may the sacrifices I’m making to prepare for Christmas proceed from selfless love.
 
THIRD SUNDAY: REJOICING OVER WHAT'S RIGHT
Zep 3:14-18a/Phil 4:4-7/Lk 3:10-18
St. Paul gives us two seemingly impossible commands: “Rejoice in the Lord always” and “Have no anxiety.” How can we rejoice always with so much pain in the world? We can if we see all suffering within the context of God’s all-encompassing love. And yes, a certain amount of anxiety is normal, but we can never forget that God’s love is greater than all the evil in the world.
Action: Celebrate what’s right with your life.
Prayer: Source of all joy, I entrust my pain and anxieties to you.
 
MONDAY: EVERY FAMILY HAS ITS GEMS
Gn 49:2, 8-10/Mt 1:1-17
Genealogies are fascinating. You never know who might turn up. Jesus’ genealogy includes individuals of renown and of ill repute. His family wasn’t perfect. Neither is ours. Yet every family has its gems, those individuals we cherish and admire. Who are the gems in your family?
Action: Dust off the family album and pray for and with your ancestors.
Prayer: Jesus, may I always trace my spiritual ancestry back to you.
 
TUESDAY: TRUSTING AS JOSEPH DID
Jer 23:5-8/Mt 1:18-25
St. Joseph, a quiet and unassuming man, experienced God as an earthquake. Mary’s pregnancy shocked and devastated him. As he tossed and turned at night, God asked him to embrace Mary’s child as his own. He did. Later he was told to flee with his family into a foreign land. He did. We know little else about this man except that, amid the whirlwinds of his life, he trusted and obeyed God. Maybe that’s all we need to know.
Action: Reflect on a time God came as an earthquake.
Prayer: St. Joseph, help me to trust God amid the whirlwinds of life.
 
WEDNESDAY: THE GOD OF SURPRISES
Jgs 13:2-7, 24-25a/Lk 1:5-25
The Advent readings continue to show God doing surprising things. Samson is born to a couple who had resigned themselves to childlessness. Then Zechariah and Elizabeth also conceive a child despite their advanced years. Both sons will be a blessing for their parents and people.
Action: Bring some life to a lifeless situation in your family, workplace, parish, or local community.
Prayer: God of Surprises, help me to be a blessing for others.
 
THURSDAY: EMMANUEL: GOD WITH US AND FOR US
Is 7:10-14/Lk 1:26-38
The child whose birth we anticipate is called Emmanuel. That name translates as “God-with-us,” but it also means “God-for-us.” In other words, God is in our corner working for our good. This is the God Mary believed in. How else could she have surrendered herself so completely?
Action: Take stock of your image of God and see if it needs any tweaking or major overhauling.
Prayer: Emmanuel, be with and for us.
 
FRIDAY: ENCOURAGE ONE ANOTHER
Song 2:8-14 or Zep 3:14-18a/Lk 1:39-45
Immediately after Mary conceives Jesus, what does she do? Run and tell her friends? Withdraw into seclusion? Go to the Mediterranean for a vacation? Of course not! She sets out “in haste” to visit her cousin Elizabeth who is pregnant, too. Since Elizabeth is older, Mary assumes she will need help with the pregnancy and birth. What a support these two women were for each other!
Action: Support someone with a call, note, e-mail, or visit.
Prayer: Mary and Elizabeth, thank you for your beautiful example of mutual encouragement.
 
SATURDAY: UNSELFISH LOVE LETS GO
1 Sm 1:24-28/Lk 1:46-56
Hannah hands over her son, Samuel, to Eli saying, “I give him to the Lord.” What an unselfish act! Sooner or later, all parents must let go of their children and allow them to live their own lives. We don’t “own” other people. Love knows this well.
Action: Hand over someone or something to God today.
Prayer: Loving God, I entrust all my loved ones to you.
 
FOURTH SUNDAY: SMALL IS BEAUTIFUL
Mi 5:1-4a/Heb 10:5-10/Lk 1:39-45
Our world tells us power is everything. What a contrast to our Advent readings and the Christmas story. Jesus will be born not in a mighty city, but in the tiny town of Bethlehem. His mother won’t be a queen, but a teenage peasant. His father won’t be a military general, but a humble carpenter. The irony of it all!
Action: Appreciate something small.
Prayer: Almighty God, help me to value the small and vulnerable.
 
MONDAY: THANKING GOD
Morning: 2 Sm 7:1-5, 8b-12, 14a, 16/Lk 1:67-79
Today is Christmas Eve. In the Gospel, we hear Zechariah’s beautiful canticle of thanksgiving to God for the birth of his son. He praises God for visiting and showing mercy to his people. Then he predicts his son will be a prophet who will prepare the way for God’s coming more fully into the world.
Action: Sing your own canticle of thanksgiving to God for visiting your life.
Prayer: Blessed be God forever!
 
CHRISTMAS DAY: BEARERS OF PEACE
Midnight: Is 9:1-6/Ti 2:11-14/Lk 2:1-14
It’s easy to romanticize the first Christmas: cozy manger, clean straw, fluffy sheep. But we must remember: Joseph couldn’t find decent housing, and Mary gave birth in a smelly stable. God didn’t give them serenity, convenience, and clarity of vision. They had only their faith to sustain them. That’s all we have, too.
Action: Be a bearer of peace today. Merry Christmas!
Prayer: Jesus, help me to walk by faith.
 


Melannie Svoboda, a Sister of Notre Dame from Chardon, Ohio, has ministered as teacher, novice director, and congregational leader. The author of many books, she also gives talks and retreats nationally.

NEXT: Ten Achievements of Vatican II (by Berard Doerger, OFM)

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Rose of Lima: The first canonized saint of the New World has one characteristic of all saints—the suffering of opposition—and another characteristic which is more for admiration than for imitation—excessive practice of mortification. 
<p>She was born to parents of Spanish descent in Lima, Peru, at a time when South America was in its first century of evangelization. She seems to have taken Catherine of Siena (April 29) as a model, in spite of the objections and ridicule of parents and friends. </p><p>The saints have so great a love of God that what seems bizarre to us, and is indeed sometimes imprudent, is simply a logical carrying out of a conviction that anything that might endanger a loving relationship with God must be rooted out. So, because her beauty was so often admired, Rose used to rub her face with pepper to produce disfiguring blotches. Later, she wore a thick circlet of silver on her head, studded on the inside, like a crown of thorns. </p><p>When her parents fell into financial trouble, she worked in the garden all day and sewed at night. Ten years of struggle against her parents began when they tried to make Rose marry. They refused to let her enter a convent, and out of obedience she continued her life of penance and solitude at home as a member of the Third Order of St. Dominic. So deep was her desire to live the life of Christ that she spent most of her time at home in solitude. </p><p>During the last few years of her life, Rose set up a room in the house where she cared for homeless children, the elderly and the sick. This was a beginning of social services in Peru. Though secluded in life and activity, she was brought to the attention of Inquisition interrogators, who could only say that she was influenced by grace. </p><p>What might have been a merely eccentric life was transfigured from the inside. If we remember some unusual penances, we should also remember the greatest thing about Rose: a love of God so ardent that it withstood ridicule from without, violent temptation and lengthy periods of sickness. When she died at 31, the city turned out for her funeral. Prominent men took turns carrying her coffin.</p> American Catholic Blog Father, open our minds and our hearts so we can be more understanding of the obstacles faced by so many hurting people. Help us to be more like Jesus in accepting people for who are they are and not for what we think they should be. We ask for this grace through Jesus, your Son and our model. Amen.

 
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