Sunday, December 23, 2018

Being a blessing to your neighbor

Readings: Micah 5:1-4a; Ps 80:2-3.15-16.18-19; Heb 10:5-10; Luke 1:39-45

Today is one of those liturgical days on which there are so many convergences that as I ponder them my head nearly explodes. First, today is the last day on which the Church prays the so-called O Antiphons. Hence, the O Antiphon for today is:
O Emmanuel, our king and our lawgiver,
the hope of the nations and their Saviour:
Come and save us, O Lord our God.
Emmanuel, of course, is a name meaning "God is with us."

Our Gospel reading for today is the same as it was on Friday- Luke's account of Mary's visitation to her kinswoman, Elizabeth. According to Luke, Elizabeth, too, is the beneficiary of a child conceived with divine assistance. Her son, John the Baptist, while conceived in the normal way, came to be after Elizabeth had passed, or was on the verge of passing, child-bearing age. While Luke's account of the Baptist's conception and birth is less dramatic that Sarah's conception of Isaac in Genesis (see Gen 18:1-15), it bears a resemblance to Hannah's conception of the prophet Samuel (see 1 Samuel 1).

Mary's visitation of Elizabeth is the fourth Joyful mystery of the Holy Rosary. As I noted on Friday, the spiritual fruit of this mystery is the love of neighbor. Note the joy of their meeting. Mary greets Elizabeth. Upon the sound of the Virgin's greeting reaching her ears, the child in Elizabeth's womb "leaped." Filled with Holy Spirit, Elizabeth calls her young kinswoman thrice blessed: "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb" (Luke 1:42); "Blessed are you who believed" (Luke 1:45). By believing what the Archangel Gabriel revealed to her, Mary believed all that was spoken by the prophets, like the prophecy from our first reading, taken from the Book of the Prophet Micah.

As my bishop preached last Friday, joy is the fruit of love. How loving of Mary to share the Good News with Elizabeth and Zechariah. Luke tells us that Mary went "in haste" to their house (Luke 1:39). Truly good news makes you eager to share it with others. Love of neighbor prompted by the love of God is really the Gospel, the Good News, in its most succinct form. God was with Elizabeth in a concrete way because Mary bore him the distance from Nazareth to the village in the Judean hill country. By loving your neighbor for the love of God gives you make Christ present in a way not that different from that of the Blessed Virgin.

Visitation, Cathedral, Toledo, Spain, taken Sharon Mollerus during a visit several years ago

Our reading from the magnificent Letter to the Hebrews reminds us that Christ is truly human and truly divine. He came to make of himself an offering to the Father so that all who, like Mary, believe God's revelation in Christ might be gathered together and comprise his Body, allowing Christ to make an offering of us to the Father. Our offering is lives of loving service. As Psalm 51, which is called the Miserere, puts it:
For you do not desire sacrifice or I would give it;
a burnt offering you would not accept.
My sacrifice, O God, is a contrite spirit;
a contrite, humbled heart, O God, you will not scorn
This brings us to the first of the Rosary's Joyful mysteries: the Annunciation. The spiritual fruit of this mystery is humility. As a saying that is often attributed to C.S. Lewis holds: "Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it's thinking of yourself less." The trouble with this quote is that there is no evidence that Lewis ever spoke or wrote it. The realization that it is misattributed does not diminish its truth, however. There is a lesson in that, I think, for how we approach both Matthew's and Luke's Infancy Narratives in their respective Gospels.

While I've invoked Emmanuel, God is with us, along with the Annunciation, you may have noticed that the Collect for the Fourth Sunday of Advent is the same prayer we use to end the Angelus:
Pour forth, we beseech you, O Lord
your grace into our hearts,
that we, to whom the Incarnation of Christ your Son
was made known by the message of an Angel,
may be his Passion and Cross
be brought to the glory of his Resurrection...

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