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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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Andrew Dung-Lac and Companions: Andrew Dung-Lac was one of 117 people martyred in Vietnam between 1820 and 1862. Members of this group were beatified on four different occasions between 1900 and 1951. All were canonized by St. John Paul II. 
<p>Christianity came to Vietnam (then three separate kingdoms) through the Portuguese. Jesuits opened the first permanent mission at Da Nang in 1615. They ministered to Japanese Catholics who had been driven from Japan. </p><p>The king of one of the kingdoms banned all foreign missionaries and tried to make all Vietnamese deny their faith by trampling on a crucifix. Like the priest-holes in Ireland during English persecution, many hiding places were offered in homes of the faithful. </p><p>Severe persecutions were again launched three times in the 19th century. During the six decades after 1820, between 100,000 and 300,000 Catholics were killed or subjected to great hardship. Foreign missionaries martyred in the first wave included priests of the Paris Mission Society, and Spanish Dominican priests and tertiaries. </p><p>Persecution broke out again in 1847 when the emperor suspected foreign missionaries and Vietnamese Christians of sympathizing with a rebellion led by of one of his sons. </p><p>The last of the martyrs were 17 laypersons, one of them a 9-year-old, executed in 1862. That year a treaty with France guaranteed religious freedom to Catholics, but it did not stop all persecution. </p><p>By 1954 there were over a million and a half Catholics—about seven percent of the population—in the north. Buddhists represented about 60 percent. Persistent persecution forced some 670,000 Catholics to abandon lands, homes and possessions and flee to the south. In 1964, there were still 833,000 Catholics in the north, but many were in prison. In the south, Catholics were enjoying the first decade of religious freedom in centuries, their numbers swelled by refugees. </p><p>During the Vietnamese war, Catholics again suffered in the north, and again moved to the south in great numbers. Now the whole country is under Communist rule.</p> American Catholic Blog To replace our sins with virtues may seem like a daunting task, but fortunately we can follow the example of the saints who have 
successfully defeated these sins in their lifetimes. They provide us with a way forward so that we, too, can live holy, virtuous lives.

 
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