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Faith Alive

Catholic News Service


  • Image Credit: CNS photo/Lisa Johnston, St. Louis Review


    IN A NUTSHELL

    This Sunday we'll sing "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" during the processional. It's a somber sounding hymn, but we are reminded, He is coming and we should be filled with joy.

    Christmas is near, and there is too little time, too much to do and still more to come.

    We pray for the grace, this Advent season, to encounter the person of Christ who brings a peace that the world cannot give, a joy and peace surpassing understanding.

    END

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    MIDST

    Joy from the inside out

    By Maureen Pratt

    Catholic News Service

    The crunch is upon us! Christmas is near, and there is too little time, too much to do and still more to come. We're supposed to shout, "Joy to the world!" but the actual feeling of joy might seem quite distant or exhausting, forced, like a photographer's insistence that we "smile" when we really don't feel like it.

    The wonderful readings for this Third Sunday of Advent come to the rescue of our harried hearts. Each in its own way brings this blessed time into comforting focus, and, as a gift for today and tomorrow, provides effective ways that we can grasp and cultivate lasting joy, not from external sources, but from deep within, where Christ dwells and the Holy Spirit moves.

    First, the reading from Isaiah (61:1-2, 10-11) helps us reorient ourselves from our daily, more mundane tasks to an inner purpose that leaps forth with gratitude and eagerness to serve.

    Through our baptism, we, too, are called to "bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives," and, most especially, to "rejoice heartily in the Lord" for we are clothed "with a robe of salvation."

    No matter where, no matter when, the more we reflect on how truly blessed we are, and how wonderful is the message that we carry, the more room we have inside for true joy.

    The responsorial psalm from the Gospel of Luke (1:46-50, 53-54) is perfect for times when we are so tired from our daily duties, weighted even more by the activity of the holiday season.

    Inviting Mary's beautiful prayer of praise and thanksgiving to flow into our hearts, we can be rejuvenated in grateful faith, reminded of how much the Lord loves us, blesses us and keeps us -- yes, even in our current frazzled state!

    In 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24, Paul's prayer and instruction give us a different set of eyeglasses with which to view our lives in the coming days. Instead of compartmentalizing Advent and Christmas into the crimped boxes on a calendar, we are invited to broaden our vision -- rejoicing "always," praying "without ceasing" and "in all circumstances," giving thanks.

    This permission to put faith first and everywhere can assist in weeding out the things that sap our time and leave us feeling empty instead of filled. It also helps us better cultivate inner peace, building our joy on a thriving spirit within. And it gives us a potent action to take anytime we wait in seemingly endless lines or on hold!

    The Gospel acclamation (Is 61:1) echoes the readings before it and leads us into a glorious Gospel -- John 1:6-8, 19-28 -- that invites us to reflect on our faith beginnings: our baptism.

    Most of us probably do not remember being baptized. As squalling, wriggly babies, we were very simple-minded (adorable, yes, but, still simple-minded), caring most to eat, sleep, bawl and repeat. Even if a few of us were the paragon of cherubic virtue (a very few), the likelihood of being aware of what was happening as adults gently guided us through the first sacrament is, well, unlikely.

    Yet, as clueless as we were as babes about the great mystery unfolding in our lives, that early initiation set us on a pivotal path of faith.

    In subsequent years, we grew in grace and understanding, toddling, then treading along the Christian walk. Slipping and sliding sometimes, yes, in our humanity, but still moving and building grace within, even if at times we did not fully comprehend what was happening.

    Ours has not been an unfamiliar road: Ancestors, saints, prophets, apostles and many others laid the pathway. Mary, the mother of Our Lord, gave herself, her "yes." Joseph, her husband, too. And Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem, then walked through his remarkable life to death so that we might be saved.

    Now, as with our first baby steps, we do not walk in isolation. Family, friends, church community and faithful around the world are in step all around us. The blessed Holy Trinity -- Father, Son and Holy Spirit -- are never away, but with us in all and through all.

    And we, no matter how beleaguered we might be because of the worldly cares we take on, have access always to the pure joy that comes from the sacrament of baptism and the continual flow of God's love, support and grace.

    As we move through the next days, busy though they might be, remembering our baptism and all of the wonder that comes with it can bring our gratitude for all of God's gifts to light. We can share the good news like never before and let our joy shine brilliantly, brightly, from the inside, out!

    (Pratt is a columnist for Catholic News Service. Her website is www.maureenpratt.com.)

    END

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    STORIES

    My soul rejoices through the darkness

    By Shemaiah Gonzalez

    Catholic News Service

    My oldest was five when he asked me, "Was it me or Chapman who jumped in our mommy's tummy when we heard the other mommy's voice?" His friend's mother and I were pregnant with them at the same time.

    "Ummm, that was John the Baptist when he heard the voice of Mary, the mother of Jesus." I answered.

    "Oh yeah. I thought it was me." He replied, shrugging off the mix-up, returning to his coloring book.

    I took pleasure that in the anticipation of Christmas my son's narrative was so interwoven with Christ's he was uncertain which was his own.

    "I guess John the Baptist was really happy that Jesus was going to be born." he said, trading his purple crayon for a pink.

    I laughed inside. I never thought of John the Baptist as happy. Loud, a little scary, smelly perhaps -- but not joyful. But then again, why wouldn't he be joyful?

    Hadn't John leapt for joy in his mother Elizabeth's womb when he heard the voice of Mary? Hadn't his birth to parents well advanced in age caused the entire neighborhood to celebrate? His birth was a miracle and shared in the joy with his parents.

    John's father Zechariah, who had been made mute by the angel Gabriel for doubting him, had his tongue loosened at John's birth. He began singing and praising God. John was surrounded by joy from the very beginning.

    Looking at John through the lens of joy, I no longer saw him as a vagrant, morosely digging in the forest for food but as a dazzling prophet, his eyes open to the glorious splendor to come.

    I thought of the name John meaning "God is gracious."

    Luke says John encouraged the people and preached the good news to them. John imparted his name to the people with the promise of forgiveness to those who repent.

    I started to focus less on John hollering to the crowds "Repent!" but on the moments after repentance and baptism, when God's people felt the sweet relief of forgiveness. When they felt themselves ready for the brilliance to come.

    This Sunday we'll sing "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" during the processional:

    "O come, o come, Emmanuel,/ And ransom captive Israel,/ That mourns in lonely exile here."

    It's a somber sounding hymn, made more solemn in the darkened church, lit only with candles as we wait for Christ's birth. But just as on that first Christmas we catch a glimpse of hope:

    "Until the Son of God appear./ Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel/ Shall come to you, O Israel!"

    We are reminded, he is coming and we should be filled with joy! The readings remind us of this too.

    In the Old Testament, Isaiah says: "I rejoice heartily in the Lord, in my God is the joy of my soul" (Is 61:10).

    In the New Testament, St. Paul says, "Rejoice always ' for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus" (1 Thes 5:16-18).

    Yet it is the responsorial psalm that stays with me, after I leave Mass. I find myself humming it throughout the day:

    "My soul rejoices in my God."

    The response is the song Mary sings right after Elizabeth reveals to her "the infant in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled."

    Author Nadia Bolz-Weber writes, "Mary remind(s) us of God's favor. Mary is what it looks like to believe we are already are who God says we are."

    Mary, the first to believe, to say yes, the first disciple, and the first to show us how to respond to the call of Christ.

    I see how this year's Christmas narrative is so tightly knitted with that first Christmas. In anticipation, I prepare my heart in repentance. Then in the sweet relief of forgiveness I sing with joy, "O come, O come, Emmanuel."

    (Gonzalez is a freelance writer. Her website is www.shemaiahgonzalez.com.)

    END

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    BIBLE

    Advent meditation: Joy during life's struggles and sorrows

    By Effie Caldarola

    Catholic News Service

    Rejoice always! Those words from St. Paul in Thessalonians reverberate through the ages, through prayer and song. Again, I say rejoice.

    This Advent, we take time to pray with St. Paul, one of history's most compelling figures. A focused and intense man, he dedicated himself to persecuting followers of Jesus. Then, after a dramatic encounter on a journey to Damascus left him blinded and dazed, St. Paul changed course entirely.

    He had encountered Christ, personally and vividly, and his life would never be the same.

    St. Paul, we ask that you help us to understand the indescribable joy that an encounter with the risen Christ can bring.

    In our lives, we seek happiness. We ask, St. Paul, that you help us to understand the difference between the superficial things of this life that sometimes bring us brief happiness and the deep down, impregnable joy for which we yearn and which will shepherd us through life's hardest moments.

    St. Paul, in your letters, we sometimes find you in prison. We ask you to help us sit with you in the dank, humid environment of a Roman prison. Help us to be with you in the quiet of prayer. We ask to be present to the cruel or indifferent guards whom you encountered, the filthy conditions, the darkness of a lonely Roman night.

    Help us to understand those things that imprison us this Advent season. Amid the twinkling lights and the gaily wrapped presents, help us, as we spend time with you, to enumerate what sometimes hinders our joy.

    Are we lonely for someone we miss this season, and feel our hearts cannot endure the absence? Are we discouraged by the waste and overabundance that sometimes mark the holidays? Are we struggling against overconsumption, either of food, alcohol or other substances that enslaves us?

    Are we struggling financially? Are we struggling with faith? Do we sometimes feel overwhelmed by the evil present in our world?

    St. Paul, the tables had been turned for you as you embraced Christ. You, the pursuer, became the hunted. The persecutor had become the persecuted. How did you sustain your joy through these challenges?

    We remember the words of Pope Benedict XVI In his encyclical "Deus Caritas Est" ("God Is Love"): "Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction."

    No debate or argument produced the joy you feel, St. Paul. No "lofty idea" convinced you, but instead an encounter with the person of Christ changed you forever.

    We ask you to help us share in boundless joy in the midst of our own limitations and challenges.

    We pray for the grace, this Advent season, to encounter, as St. Paul did, a person, the person of Christ who brings a peace that the world cannot give, a joy and peace surpassing understanding, a joy not confined or constrained by prison walls.

    (Caldarola is a freelance writer and a columnist for Catholic News Service.)

    END

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    FOOD FOR THOUGHT

    How can we bring others joy, even when we feel as though we don't have any ourselves?

    Freelance writer Susan Erschen writes at Our Sunday Visitor of six ways to spread and cultivate joy during Advent, despite our own dearth of it.

    -- Look to Pope Francis. See how he "spreads joy with a smile, a hug or a warm word," Erschen advises, and "make an extra effort to be kind, complimentary, caring or appreciative" to others.

    -- Pray. Follow St. Paul's example to "rejoice always" and "pray without ceasing." By taking time to pray, we remember that we have many reasons to be grateful, she says.

    -- Recite a thank-you prayer to God daily. Make it an Advent practice to remind ourselves of blessings and people often overlooked.

    -- Families should name what they're grateful for before dinnertime. Start a new Advent tradition and cultivate gratitude, to balance any envy created by "endless advertising at this time of the year," she suggests.

    -- Surround yourself with music and carols. "Even if your voice is not exactly angelic," Erschen says, let others hear you sing of the joy of Christ's birth.

    -- Leave anonymous gifts for friends and strangers. Send flowers, pay for someone's meal or leave candy on co-workers' desks.

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About Faith Alive
Faith Alive is a service from Catholic News Service (CNS). CNS, the oldest and largest religious news service in the world, is a leading source of news for Catholic print and electronic media across the globe. With bureaus in Washington and Rome, as well as a global correspondent network, CNS since 1920 has set the standard in Catholic journalism.

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