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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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Pio of Pietrelcina: In one of the largest such ceremonies in history, Pope John Paul II canonized Padre Pio of Pietrelcina on June 16, 2002. It was the 45th canonization ceremony in Pope John Paul's pontificate. More than 300,000 people braved blistering heat as they filled St. Peter's Square and nearby streets. They heard the Holy Father praise the new saint for his prayer and charity. "This is the most concrete synthesis of Padre Pio's teaching," said the pope. He also stressed Padre Pio's witness to the power of suffering. If accepted with love, the Holy Father stressed, such suffering can lead to "a privileged path of sanctity." 
<p>Many people have turned to the Italian Capuchin Franciscan to intercede with God on their behalf; among them was the future Pope John Paul II. In 1962, when he was still an archbishop in Poland, he wrote to Padre Pio and asked him to pray for a Polish woman with throat cancer. Within two weeks, she had been cured of her life-threatening disease. </p><p>Born Francesco Forgione, Padre Pio grew up in a family of farmers in southern Italy. Twice (1898-1903 and 1910-17) his father worked in Jamaica, New York, to provide the family income. </p><p>At the age of 15, Francesco joined the Capuchins and took the name of Pio. He was ordained in 1910 and was drafted during World War I. After he was discovered to have tuberculosis, he was discharged. In 1917 he was assigned to the friary in San Giovanni Rotondo, 75 miles from the city of Bari on the Adriatic. </p><p>On September 20, 1918, as he was making his thanksgiving after Mass, Padre Pio had a vision of Jesus. When the vision ended, he had the stigmata in his hands, feet and side. </p><p>Life became more complicated after that. Medical doctors, Church authorities and curiosity seekers came to see Padre Pio. In 1924 and again in 1931, the authenticity of the stigmata was questioned; Padre Pio was not permitted to celebrate Mass publicly or to hear confessions. He did not complain of these decisions, which were soon reversed. However, he wrote no letters after 1924. His only other writing, a pamphlet on the agony of Jesus, was done before 1924. </p><p>Padre Pio rarely left the friary after he received the stigmata, but busloads of people soon began coming to see him. Each morning after a 5 a.m. Mass in a crowded church, he heard confessions until noon. He took a mid-morning break to bless the sick and all who came to see him. Every afternoon he also heard confessions. In time his confessional ministry would take 10 hours a day; penitents had to take a number so that the situation could be handled. Many of them have said that Padre Pio knew details of their lives that they had never mentioned. </p><p>Padre Pio saw Jesus in all the sick and suffering. At his urging, a fine hospital was built on nearby Mount Gargano. The idea arose in 1940; a committee began to collect money. Ground was broken in 1946. Building the hospital was a technical wonder because of the difficulty of getting water there and of hauling up the building supplies. This "House for the Alleviation of Suffering" has 350 beds. </p><p>A number of people have reported cures they believe were received through the intercession of Padre Pio. Those who assisted at his Masses came away edified; several curiosity seekers were deeply moved. Like St. Francis, Padre Pio sometimes had his habit torn or cut by souvenir hunters. </p><p>One of Padre Pio’s sufferings was that unscrupulous people several times circulated prophecies that they claimed originated from him. He never made prophecies about world events and never gave an opinion on matters that he felt belonged to Church authorities to decide. He died on September 23, 1968, and was beatified in 1999.</p> American Catholic Blog In times of intense loss and grief, we take our place with Mary as she embraces all our grief in her own as she is silently holding in her arms the stark presence of our suffering God in the lifeless body of her Son.

 
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