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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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Maria Goretti: One of the largest crowds ever assembled for a canonization—250,000—symbolized the reaction of millions touched by the simple story of Maria Goretti. 
<p>She was the daughter of a poor Italian tenant farmer, had no chance to go to school, never learned to read or write. When she made her First Communion not long before her death at age 12, she was one of the larger and somewhat backward members of the class. </p><p>On a hot afternoon in July, Maria was sitting at the top of the stairs of her house, mending a shirt. She was not quite 12 years old, but physically mature. A cart stopped outside, and a neighbor, Alessandro, 18 years old, ran up the stairs. He seized her and pulled her into a bedroom. She struggled and tried to call for help. “No, God does not wish it," she cried out. "It is a sin. You would go to hell for it.” Alessandro began striking at her blindly with a long dagger. </p><p>She was taken to a hospital. Her last hours were marked by the usual simple compassion of the good—concern about where her mother would sleep, forgiveness of her murderer (she had been in fear of him, but did not say anything lest she cause trouble to his family) and her devout welcoming of Viaticum, her last Holy Communion. She died about 24 hours after the attack. </p><p>Her murderer was sentenced to 30 years in prison. For a long time he was unrepentant and surly. One night he had a dream or vision of Maria, gathering flowers and offering them to him. His life changed. When he was released after 27 years, his first act was to go to beg the forgiveness of Maria’s mother. </p><p>Devotion to the young martyr grew, miracles were worked, and in less than half a century she was canonized. At her beatification in 1947, her mother (then 82), two sisters and a brother appeared with Pope Pius XII on the balcony of St. Peter’s. Three years later, at her canonization, a 66-year-old Alessandro Serenelli knelt among the quarter-million people and cried tears of joy.</p> American Catholic Blog Lord, may the medals we wear be constant reminders of the lives they depict. While wearing them, may we be blessed through the saints’ intercession and protected from harm. Help us to continue to spread the messages of Jesus and Mary and the saints and angels.

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