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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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Monica: The circumstances of St. Monica’s life could have made her a nagging wife, a bitter daughter-in-law and a despairing parent, yet she did not give way to any of these temptations. Although she was a Christian, her parents gave her in marriage to a pagan, Patricius, who lived in her hometown of Tagaste in North Africa. Patricius had some redeeming features, but he had a violent temper and was licentious. Monica also had to bear with a cantankerous mother-in-law who lived in her home. Patricius criticized his wife because of her charity and piety, but always respected her. Monica’s prayers and example finally won her husband and mother-in-law to Christianity. Her husband died in 371, one year after his baptism. 
<p>Monica had at least three children who survived infancy. The oldest, Augustine (August 28) , is the most famous. At the time of his father’s death, Augustine was 17 and a rhetoric student in Carthage. Monica was distressed to learn that her son had accepted the Manichean heresy (all flesh is evil)  and was living an immoral life. For a while, she refused to let him eat or sleep in her house. Then one night she had a vision that assured her Augustine would return to the faith. From that time on, she stayed close to her son, praying and fasting for him. In fact, she often stayed much closer than Augustine wanted. </p><p>When he was 29, Augustine decided to go to Rome to teach rhetoric. Monica was determined to go along. One night he told his mother that he was going to the dock to say goodbye to a friend. Instead, he set sail for Rome. Monica was heartbroken when she learned of Augustine’s trick, but she still followed him. She arrived in Rome only to find that he had left for Milan. Although travel was difficult, Monica pursued him to Milan. </p><p>In Milan, Augustine came under the influence of the bishop, St. Ambrose, who also became Monica’s spiritual director. She accepted his advice in everything and had the humility to give up some practices that had become second nature to her (see Quote, below). Monica became a leader of the devout women in Milan as she had been in Tagaste. </p><p>She continued her prayers for Augustine during his years of instruction. At Easter, 387, St. Ambrose baptized Augustine and several of his friends. Soon after, his party left for Africa. Although no one else was aware of it, Monica knew her life was near the end. She told Augustine, “Son, nothing in this world now affords me delight. I do not know what there is now left for me to do or why I am still here, all my hopes in this world being now fulfilled.” She became ill shortly after and suffered severely for nine days before her death. </p><p>Almost all we know about St. Monica is in the writings of St. Augustine, especially his <i>Confessions</i>.</p> American Catholic Blog The Church really is my mother, too. She isn’t a vague maternal force for a generic collection of anonymous people. This Mother truly nurtures us—each one of us. And for those of us who are baptized Christians, the Church has actually given birth to us on a spiritual level.

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CATHOLIC GREETINGS
St. Monica
The tears of this fourth-century mother contributed to her son's conversion to Christ.

Religious Profession
Lord of the harvest, thank you for all those Men and Women Religious who have answered your call to service.

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The love of husband and wife is the wellspring of love for the entire family.

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