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Bible Reflections View Comments

Responding to God’s Great Promise
By Diane M. Houdek
Source: Bringing Home the Word
Published: Sunday, December 23, 2012
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The Advent season is meant to be a quiet, reflective time, a time to hear the words of the prophets in the Scriptures, to think about how the presence of God coming into the world can change things. The image of light coming into darkness is perhaps the most vivid example of this. As we move closer to the celebration of Christmas, the Scriptures speak to us more and more of the way the great event of the Incarnation happens on a smaller, more intimate, more human scale.

Today’s Gospel gives us the story of Mary and her cousin Elizabeth. Mary was given a promise by God, the promise that she would give birth to the Messiah. Mary was open to the vision, to the promise of fulfillment. Her yes was the beginning of all that would happen to her. And this promise began to grow within her. But in her case, it was more than a great metaphor. It was a living, breathing human being.

We have been given as great a promise as Mary and Elizabeth received: the promise of love, of salvation, of eternity. We receive this promise at our baptism, and the impact of it grows within us as we come to understand what faith can be and do in our lives.

How we respond to that promise says much about us. It also determines how much it spreads beyond our own lives to change the people we meet and even the world around us. What do we do with the promise of Advent, the promise of Christmas, the promise of Christ? We can begin by reaching out to others and affirming the presence of God in their lives.

We must respond not only with words but with action. Rather than withdrawing and concentrating only on the effect God’s Word would have on her own life, Mary moved outside herself, outside her small town, and went to her cousin Elizabeth. While she awaits the fulfillment of the promise, she reaches out to others who also are living the Spirit’s promise.

Elizabeth recognizes that Mary is following God’s call and says, “Blessed is she who trusted that the Lord’s words to her would be fulfilled.” Trust in God’s promise is something we struggle with throughout our lives. Even the greatest saints had times of darkness when they struggled to believe.

The Word breaks into our lives with the startling and dazzling revelation that through Jesus of Nazareth, God loves us in visible, tangible ways the angels could never understand. Because we believe this, we’re called to love one another with the same incarnate love. Such love is a challenge to be gentle, to give of oneself, to enter deeply into reconciliation, to grow and to change—above all to trust.

We know all too well that even our most loving gestures will not always be well-received. Human relationships are fragile and fraught with all the weakness and misunderstanding of imperfect earthly existence.

Love is a commitment of trust and faith—of promises made, kept, broken, reconciled. No real love can be born without risks, without vulnerability.

As Christians we’ve staked our lives on the belief that only through death is there life. When despair overwhelms us, when promises suddenly seem empty, when it seems we’re surrounded by dashed dreams and disappointment, by love betrayed and friendships faltering, prophets break into our lives with the word that God still cares, that love is still possible. To believe this promise demands that we risk once again, that we reach out in love, that we trust the hand reaching out to us.


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Philip Neri: Philip Neri was a sign of contradiction, combining popularity with piety against the background of a corrupt Rome and a disinterested clergy, the whole post-Renaissance malaise. 
<p>At an early age, he abandoned the chance to become a businessman, moved to Rome from Florence and devoted his life and individuality to God. After three years of philosophy and theology studies, he gave up any thought of ordination. The next 13 years were spent in a vocation unusual at the time—that of a layperson actively engaged in prayer and the apostolate. </p><p>As the Council of Trent (1545-63) was reforming the Church on a doctrinal level, Philip’s appealing personality was winning him friends from all levels of society, from beggars to cardinals. He rapidly gathered around himself a group of laypersons won over by his audacious spirituality. Initially they met as an informal prayer and discussion group, and also served poor people in Rome. </p><p>At the urging of his confessor, he was ordained a priest and soon became an outstanding confessor, gifted with the knack of piercing the pretenses and illusions of others, though always in a charitable manner and often with a joke. He arranged talks, discussions and prayers for his penitents in a room above the church. He sometimes led “excursions” to other churches, often with music and a picnic on the way. </p><p>Some of his followers became priests and lived together in community. This was the beginning of the Oratory, the religious institute he founded. A feature of their life was a daily afternoon service of four informal talks, with vernacular hymns and prayers. Giovanni Palestrina was one of Philip’s followers, and composed music for the services. </p><p>The Oratory was finally approved after suffering through a period of accusations of being an assembly of heretics, where laypersons preached and sang vernacular hymns! (Cardinal Newman founded the first English-speaking house of the Oratory three centuries later.) </p><p>Philip’s advice was sought by many of the prominent figures of his day. He is one of the influential figures of the Counter-Reformation, mainly for converting to personal holiness many of the influential people within the Church itself. His characteristic virtues were humility and gaiety.</p> American Catholic Blog When we suffer, we don’t just come to understand the pain of Christ’s cross more, we come to understand the depth of God’s love for us: that he would endure such pain for us—in our place. We have a God who endured death so we would never have to do so.

The Gospel of John the Gospel of Relationship

 
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