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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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Apollonia: The persecution of Christians began in Alexandria during the reign of the Emperor Philip. The first victim of the pagan mob was an old man named Metrius, who was tortured and then stoned to death. The second person who refused to worship their false idols was a Christian woman named Quinta. Her words infuriated the mob and she was scourged and stoned. 
<p>While most of the Christians were fleeing the city, abandoning all their worldly possessions, an old deaconess, Apollonia, was seized. The crowds beat her, knocking out all of her teeth. Then they lit a large fire and threatened to throw her in it if she did not curse her God. She begged them to wait a moment, acting as if she was considering their requests. Instead, she jumped willingly into the flames and so suffered martyrdom.</p><p>There were many churches and altars dedicated to her. Apollonia is the patroness of dentists, and people suffering from toothache and other dental diseases often ask her intercession. She is pictured with a pair of pincers holding a tooth or with a golden tooth suspended from her necklace. St. Augustine explained her voluntary martyrdom as a special inspiration of the Holy Spirit, since no one is allowed to cause his or her own death.</p> American Catholic Blog We can find Christ among the despised, voiceless, and forgotten of the world. We have to move beyond that which we wish to ignore and forget about: embrace the seemingly un-embraceable, love the unlovable, and dare to know what we most fear and wish to leave unknowable.

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