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Bible Reflections View Comments

Handle God’s People With Care
By Diane M. Houdek
Source: Bringing Home the Word
Published: Sunday, December 16, 2012
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The people coming to hear John the Baptist in Luke’s Gospel live in a kind of exile from the community, but they, too, have heard the call to conversion. They are people who need to be encouraged, who need to be healed. They approach the desert prophet with a question, wanting to know if this message he preaches makes sense of their lives, wanting to know what it will demand of them. John handles them gently, compassionately. He is realistic without compromising his message. He understands that people grow slowly in faith, that they’re easily frightened, easily discouraged.

Advent is a time of coming home, of reconciliation. When our lives are uncertain, we need to be able to hold on to something. We’re called home through simple traditions, through memories, through prayer. We’re welcomed home by those who tell us the promise of the Good News again and again until we believe it. We need people who can stay with us in our confusion, people who can remind us of the promise, who can believe in us when we struggle to believe in ourselves. We need one another to help us discover the unique gifts we have to offer to a broken world and to a Church struggling to become God’s promise to all people.

Many of the people who celebrate Advent and Christmas liturgies in our midst have fallen away from communities where they felt no welcome. Some have run from an image of a demanding, unbending, and unemotional God. Some have drifted from what at times seems like an institutional tangle of rules and rituals. We ourselves may be confused about what the Church and the Gospel ask of us.

We come hesitantly into the circle of the community. We come with questions and defensiveness. We’re excited, yet apprehensive. We anticipate, but we also doubt. At times we’re overwhelmed by fear. We need to hear the message John speaks to the soldiers and the tax collectors, the rich and the poor—a message of personal integrity and honest, human relationships. The soldiers and the tax collectors didn’t need to be told once more that they were part of an unjust and oppressive system. And we don’t need to be told that our lives are chaotic, misguided, or sinful. We know this. We need to hear a realistic challenge to transform those lives to reflect the coming of the kingdom.

Just as John gently leads his disciples to conversion, Zephaniah speaks words of encouragement and reassurance to his people. He shows them a vision of God rejoicing over them, renewing them in love, singing joyfully because of them. This intensely personal and intimate awareness of God’s presence in their lives tells them they have no further misfortune to fear, held as they are in God’s love.

The conversion to which we are called is a change in attitude, an awareness of our fellow human beings as persons, not objects for exploitation. This will do more to bring about the kingdom than all the empty talk about salvation and being chosen, than all the spectacular feats of prayer, fasting, and other rituals. Be aware of your neighbor’s needs and do all you can to live your life in such a way that the message of God’s love can be heard.

The Lord is near to us—he is Emmanuel, God with us—and this gives us the integrity we need to live the promise according to our means. The Spirit of the Lord will lead us into the ways of the kingdom.


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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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