Sunday Scriptures — Holy Family, Dec. 27, 2015

Devotion to the Holy Family (Jesus, Mary, and Joseph) seems to have been given its major impetus in the 1600’s by St. François de Laval, the first bishop of New France in what is now Canada. In 1893, Pope Leo XIII instituted the Feast to be held on the Sunday after Epiphany. And in the reforms after Vatican II, it was moved to the Sunday after Christmas.

When parishes were being merged in the Archdiocese of Boston a dozen or so years ago, often the pastor of the merged parish would choose the name Holy Family for the parish. At the time I thought it was kind of silly to try to suggest to parishioners that somehow joining St. Swithin’s and St. Ursula’s made one big happy family. But now I think that however helpful, or not, it may have been to call the new parish Holy Family, it was somehow providential that we got a number of Holy Family parishes.

Our readings tell us something about the ideals of family life but these examples aren’t the main reason I think this feast is so providential for our time. Implicitly, it tells us we need families: families are good; families are important; families are part of God’s plan for us. And the way we get families is through marriage — because family is permanent, and marriage is what makes the relationship of man and woman permanent. And marriage is the place designed for the procreation of children. The scriptures tell us that children are a gift from God, a blessing.

Recent Popes have emphasized the importance of the family, culminating with last October’s Synod on Marriage and the Family, following up on one a year earlier. One reason Pope Francis decided to devote two synods to marriage and the family is that many people today are not getting married and having children — and it’s not just people who are becoming priests and religious. This has been a concern of the hierarchy for a number of years. It seems that for whatever reason many people are not willing to make that permanent commitment of marriage, which is the image of God — the Holy Trinity, permanently united in love. And it seems that many married people are refraining from having children. Maybe they don’t see children as a gift. Or maybe they think that they have to be able to provide a certain level of material comfort for their children. Of course children are a great responsibility, and prospective parents should be sure they can at least provide the necessities of life: food shelter, clothing, and so forth. But maybe some things parents think they should be able to give their children are really luxuries, not necessities. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph were not well off materially. None of us would want to have their first-century standard of living. But they had what they truly needed in the context of their time. Whether we’re single or married, parents or childless, we would all do well to ask ourselves if we really need everything we’d like to have. So this feast is an encouragement for us to think of the value of family as a gift from God.

With that foundation let’s turn to today’s readings.

The feast wants us to see Jesus, Mary, and Joseph as the model for our families. We don’t have much information about their domestic life. Of course it had to include all the routine work of cooking, cleaning, making clothing, and earning a living, but the first thing we see in today’s gospel — Luke 2:41-52 — is that they practiced their faith, including making the annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem for Passover, with Jesus becoming part of it as soon as he was old enough. Next we notice Mary and Joseph’s anxiety for him when he was lost. And then after Mary and Joseph found him, he returned to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. So there are these three elements of family life: faith and worship, parental love and concern, obedience.

If we look back to the first reading — 1 Samuel 1: 20-22, 24-28 — we see another family that practiced their faith, making pilgrimages and offering sacrifices at the temple at Shiloh. In an ultimate expression of faith Hannah gave Samuel to the Lord, who had a vocation for him. Samuel grew up in the Temple, and became the prophet who anointed David as King of Israel. Mary also sought to understand God’s will for her son and pondered the meaning of Jesus’ words to her, just as she pondered the words that were spoken about Jesus by the angel before his birth and by the shepherds when he was born. Parents should seek to understand what God wants for each of their children, who are theirs, but are also God’s. They should be open to God’s plans for their children.

In the responsorial psalm — Ps 84:2-3, 5-6, 9-10 — we think of Samuel’s childhood and adolescence as we meditate on the joy of beimg in God’s temple. This also prepares us the sympathize with Jesus’ desire to stay in is Father’s house.

The second reading — 1 John 3:1-2, 21-24 — introduces a couple of points about a wider family. We who are baptized are all God’s adopted children. And so we are all members of this larger family. The faith which should characterize us a children of God is the faith which should animate our personal families. And the love which we should show to spouses, parents, children, and extended family members, should also be given to all the members of God’s family.

 

Today, the Church invites her members to reflect on the Holy Family. Do we see the Church as a family? Are our individual families active in our faith; are they havens of love, respect, and obedience? Are we seeking to understand and promote God’s plans for us and the other members of our families? If we are single, are we willing to commit ourselves in love to another in holy marriage; if married, are we willing to share our lives and love with children, and give them to the Lord? If we are settled in our state in life, are there ways we should gently encourage others (by word or example) to marry and raise children?

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Christmas Mass Scriptures — Dawn & Daytime, December 25, 2015

The Mass at Dawn or early morning picks up the gospel reading from where it ended at midnight — Luke 2:15-20. It tells of the shepherds’ visit to Bethlehem. They found things as the angel had told them and reported that message to Mary and Joseph. Afterwards, the shepherds praised God, and Mary reflected on what they told her. Bothe reactions are highly appropriate for us. The birth of Jesus, with all that it means for our salvation, is surely something for which we should praise and glorify God, and the message that he is Christ and Lord is something that we should reflect on and consider its implications for ourselves. One point to note is that shepherds were not highly prized: this was before Jesus gave us the image of himself as the good shepherd. While it is true that the psalms speak of God as shepherd of Israel, actual shepherds were not so highly regarded. They were rustics with, as Pope Francis says, “the smell of their sheep.” That the first announcement of the Messiah’s birth is to them shows how far God is from regard for social status and worldly power.

By the way, in his “Christmas Oratorio,” Bach follows this traditional arrangement by devoting Parts I and II to the birth of Jesus and the announcement to the shepherds, comparable to the Midnight Mass, and Part III to the shepherds’ visit to Bethlehem. Part IV tells of the circumcision, which is told at Mass on January 1; and V and VI cover the gospel of Epiphany: the visit of the Magi.
The first reading — Isaiah 62:11-12 — has a focus comparable to the angel’s message of joy to all people, which the shepherds would have reported to Mary and Joseph. It is that he message of salvation for God’s people is proclaimed to the whole world. Given the timing of the Mass, the responsorial Psalm — Ps 97:1, 6, 11-12 — includes a verse about light dawning among the verses of rejoicing. The refrain says, “A light will shin on us this day: the Lord is born for us.” As at midnight, the second reading is from Paul’s letter to Titus — Titus 3:4-7. Paul reminds us that Jesus’ coming (“the kindness … of God our savior appeared), and our incorporation into the Church through baptism (“the bath of rebirth”) are gratuitous acts of God because he wants to make us his children to inherit eternal life.

 

The Mass for Daytime moves from the events of Jesus’ birth to its theological significance.

The first reading — Isaiah 52:7-10 — says that the whole world will see that God saves his people; and in the responsorial psalm — Ps 98:1-6, with 3c as the refrain — we join in the rejoicing that God’s saving work is displayed before the whole world. Here we are still in the general mood of rejoicing. The following readings expend our view.

Hebrews 1:1-6 presents Jesus as the Son of God through whom the universe was made — as we say in the creed every Sunday. We also hear of his work of purifying us from sin and of his Ascension, supported by quotes from Psalm 2:7, 2 Samuel 7:14, and the Septuagint of Deuteronomy 32:43 and Psalm 97:7.

The gospel — John1:1-18 — tells of Jesus’ divinity and of his coming into the world as its light, the bringer of God’s grace. Scripture is God’s word in the words of men, but Jesus is absolutely the Word of God. This passage used to be read at the end of every Mass except funerals.

 

The babe of Bethlehem is more than one more descendant of David. His cosmic significance corresponds to his work of saving the world. He is God’s love made visible.

Christmas Mass Scriptures — Vigil and Midnight, December 24-25, 2015

There are four Masses for Christmas: Vigil, Midnight, Daybreak, and Daytime. I don’t have time to give the full treatment but I’ll try to at least give a few points about the scriptures assigned to each.
The Vigil Mass, to be celebrated in late afternoon or early evening of the 24th, looks forward to celebrating Jesus’ birth. In the first reading — Isaiah 62:1-5 — the prophet uses several images to illustrate God’s promise to Jerusalem, which we apply also the the Church. There will be glory, like a crown or jewels. The desolation of the exile will be undone and God will become the bridegroom of his people and will rejoice with a joy comparable only to that of a husband with his bride. We speak of the Church as the bride of Christ.

With the responsorial psalm — Ps 89:4-5, 16-17, 27, 29 with 2a as the refrain — we turn from Jerusalem to David, to whom the promise of an everlasting throne was given. In the second reading — Acts 13:16-17, 22-25 — Paul preaches about Jesus as the descendant of David in whom God’s promise of an everlasting royal house and kingdom is fulfilled. The gospel — Matthew 1:1-25 — tells us that Jesus is squarely in the Davidic line. We are also told that his birth is the work of God, as prophesied by Isaiah (the Jewish Greek version of the Old Testament, the Septuagint, Translates the nonspecific Hebrew “almah” as “parthenos,” which specifically means virgin): a virgin gives birth to the savior who is rightly called “God is with us.”

 
The Midnight Mass, for midnight or late evening, tells directly of Jesus’ birth. First, we apply the messianic prophecy of Isaiah 9:1-6 to Jesus. It tells of the birth of a heroic descendant of David who will liberate God’s people in an everlasting and peaceful kingdom. (This has been traditionally understood to apply to Jesus, which is why some of its phrases are used in Handel’s “Messiah.”) In the responsorial psalm — Ps 96:1-3, 11-13, with Luke 2:11 supplying the refrain — we take part in the rejoicing prophesied by Isaiah. In the second reading — Titus 2:11-14 — Paul tells us that the coming of Jesus into our world gives us the grace to live righteously as we await his return in glory. The gospel — Luke 2:1-14 — is the familiar story of Jesus birth in Bethlehem. It gives a historical context, and reminds us of Jesus’ descent from David. God sends an angel to announce his birth to shepherds. Jesus did not come in power and glory, but in humility.

Sunday Scriptures — Advent C 4, Dec. 20, 2015 Edited

In today’s readings, the focus clearly shifts from Jesus’ coming at the end of time to his first coming, his birth into time.

 

First is Micah 5:1-4a. This was traditionally understood as a messianic prophecy. In the gospel of Matthew, when the Magi arrive and ask King Herod about the whereabouts of the newborn king, he consults the chief priests and scribes who say the Messiah is to be born in Bethlehem, citing Micah 5:1. In John 7:40-42 there is a discussion about whether Jesus might be the prophet or the Messiah. Some people say he can’t be the Messiah because scripture says the Messiah is of David’s family and comes from Bethlehem.

Not only does this passage say that the Messiah comes from Bethlehem, it says his origin is from of old, which we can read in the light of his eternal existence with the Father and the Holy Spirit. It speaks of his mother and is birth, which we commemorate at Christmas. It describes him as a ruler and a shepherd for his people. Shepherd of Israel can be used as a title of God — as in Psalms 23, “The Lord is my shepherd,” and 80:2, “Shepherd of Israel, listen, guide of the flock of Joseph.” So we can take this as at least suggesting the divinity of the Messiah.

Two of the things he does are to bring back his strayed kindred to Israel and to be peace. We could read the former as referring to Jews of the diaspora or, in light of the promise that his greatness shall reach to the ends of the earth, to the spread of the kingdom to the Gentiles. With the promise of peace, we are in the”already, but not yet” of the present era. We are already saved, but our salvation is not yet completed; the kingdom of God is here, within us and among us, but not yet fully established. “He shall be peace.” he is the world’s peace, but that peace doesn’t yet reign in all hearts. Our duty is to extend it in whatever ways we can.

 

In the Responsorial Psalm — verses from Psalm 80 — we begin with the verse I quoted above and pray, in vv. 3, 15-16, and 18-19, for the coming of the Messiah, “the man at [God’s] right hand.”* Our response is the refrain in verses 4, 8, and 20, including the words, “let your face shine upon us,” which recall the words of blessing given to Aaron to bless the Israelites: Numbers 6:24-26.

*In the creed, we say that Jesus has ascended to heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father.

 

The second reading — Hebrews 10:5-10 — is related to the other readings in a way similar to the relation of John 1:18 to Matthew and Luke’s infancy narratives. Like our first reading and gospel, Matthew and Luke tell of events in time. Hebrews takes a view from outside time as it tells of Jesus’ coming into the world, as does the gospel of John. The author uses the Septuagint text of Psalm 40:7-9 to express the mind of Jesus as he comes into the world to do the Father’s will. His perfect obedience to the Father is an essential element in making his sacrifice effective for the salvation of the world. He does this in the body which God has prepared for him in the womb of the Virgin Mary through the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit.

Just as John 1:17 says “[W]hile the law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ,” in Hebrews 10:9 we read, “He takes away the first to establish the second.” This raises the question, what is “the first” that is taken away “to establish the second;” and what is “the second?” In context, the first is the sacrifices “offered according to the law,” and the second Jesus’ doing God’s will by offering his body and blood “once for all.” For many centuries, there was a theory called “supersessionism” which held that God’s covenant with Israel had been superseded by a new covenant, with Christians. But Jeremiah 31:31-34, quoted in Hebrews 10:16-17, says God will make a new covenant “with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.” So the new covenant does not exclude the Jews, it is made with the Jews; and the Gentiles, as Paul says, (Romans 11) are grafted into God’s people. This is a point which has become clear with the Second Vatican Council, but it is one which we are still striving to understand and express adequately: Jesus and Christianity do not represent a rupture with Judaism but are in continuity with it.

 

With the gospel — Luke 1:39-45 — we return to a view from within time. The angel Gabriel has told Mary that she will be the mother of the savior who will have the throne of David forever: the Messiah. The sign that this is true is that her old kinswoman Elizabeth has conceived a child (John the Baptist). So today we hear of the Visitation. Mary goes to Elizabeth. John, still in his mother’s womb, recognizes Jesus in his mother’s womb and rejoices. For her part, Elizabeth expresses the meaning of Mary’s motherhood, as it is revealed to her by the Holy Spirit: Mar and her child are blessed; Mary’s unborn child is Elizabeth’s Lord; Mary’s faith makes her blessed.

 

Today’s scriptures present several points for us to consider. God has a plan for our salvation, but he does not do everything instantaneously. He used the events of many centuries to prepare Israel for the birth of the Messiah, and now he takes the necessary time to prepare the world for the Messiah’s return. He is working to perfect us. Just as Jesus, Mary, Joseph, Elizabeth, Zechariah, and John were obedient to God’s will, so should we seek to do God’s will in our lives to be instruments of his peace.

 

Edited to add: Another possibility with respect to Hebrews 10:9, in the wider context of the letter, is that the author is thinking of the priesthood of Jesus which replaces the Levitical priesthood. The author goes to great lengths to show not only that the sacrifice of Jesus is superior to the sacrifices under the Law, but also that his priesthood is superior.

Sunday Scriptures — Advent C 3, Dec. 13, 2015

This Sunday is still referred to as “Gaudete Sunday” (pron. gow-DAY-tay SUN-day) from the Latin word which used to begin the opening chant of the Mass — the “introit” — which was the first word of the epistle reading and is now the second reading of this Sunday in the C cycle of readings. “Gaudete” means “Rejoice!”

One set of invocations which are optional for the penitential rite at the beginning of Mass are very appropriate for Advent because they draw our attention to the three comings of Jesus which I mentioned two weeks ago: “You came to gather the nations into the peace of God’s Kingdom” — his incarnation and saving work on earth; “You come in word and sacrament to strengthen us in holiness” — his presence in our lives; “You will come in glory with salvation for your people” — his glorious return at the end of time. Today’s readings refer to all three.

In the gospel — Luke 3:10-18 — John the Baptist is talking about Jesus both in his earthly ministry — baptizing with the Holy Spirit and fire — and in what he will do at the end of time — gathering the wheat into his barn. Zephaniah, in the first reading — Zeph 3:14-18a — calls us to rejoice because the Lord is with us — his presence in our lives as members of his people, his Church, which we understand as typified by Jerusalem. In prior weeks, the prophetic call to rejoice was based on the promise of God’s bringing his people home from exile — ultimately in the third coming of Jesus: our going home to our promised land — but we also rejoice this week in his ongoing presence. The Lord is in our midst and rejoices over us. When Paul —Philippians 4:4-7 — calls us to rejoice because “The Lord is near,” he was probably thinking of the return in glory, but it also fits his ongoing presence.

But whichever reading we are looking at, we have cause for rejoicing. Even though John the Baptist can take a menacing tone, gospel concludes with the note that John was preaching good news when he spoke of what Jesus would do. In the Responsorial Psalm — Isaiah 12:2-6 — we make the scriptural call to rejoice our own.

The first part of the gospel reminds us that being ready to receive the Lord into our lives and at the end involves repentance and conversion. That is why various groups of people ask John what they should do.

In general, they should share. He doesn’t call tax collectors and soldiers — people who worked for the Roman occupation — to quit their work. He tells them to perform their work justly.

And how about us? What should we do? The extraordinary Jubilee Year, around the theme of mercy, began last Tuesday in the Catholic Church. There is a twofold aspect to it. One is that we should be aware of God’s mercy, which he exercises for us especially in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. So we should go to confession. Those whose churches don’t offer sacramental reconciliation can and should acknowledge our sins to the Lord and ask for forgiveness, which will not be withheld from those who repent.

Secondly, we should imitate God’s mercy, and be instruments of it, by practicing the corporal and spiritual works of mercy: feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, care for the sick, visit the imprisoned, bury the dead; counsel the doubtful, instruct the ignorant, admonish sinners, comfort the afflicted, forgive offenses, bear wrongs patiently, and pray for the living and the dead. Obviously, we can’t all do all of these, but we can try to be alert to the opportunities for one or another which come into our lives.

Those are general points, but we would also do well to ask ourselves, “What would John say to me if I asked him, ‘What should I do?’” Today’s readings might have us ask ourselves, “Is my kindness known to all? Do I seek more than is my due? Am I content with what I have? Do I impose my will on others? Do I falsely accuse others?” Maybe we’re fine with respect to those items. For each of us there may be a different answer than the ones John gave his hearers, but if we ask sincerely and listen attentively, God will tell us what we need to repent of, what we need to do, or stop doing, to be ready for him. Maybe it won’t be an answer we want to hear, and maybe it will take time to do what he says. Not every failing is easily overcome. But God is patient — more patient that we sometimes are with ourselves — because he knows what it will take. As long as we’re cooperating with the grace he gives us in the moment, we’ll be making progress and his mercy and forgiveness will be ours.
Jesus was born in Nazareth and brought redemption, the forgiveness of our sins. He comes to us today in word and sacrament to show us what we should do and strengthen us to do it. He will come again to complete his work in us and bring us to glory. Rejoice!

Jubilee Year of Mercy: 2015/12/08 – 2016/11/20

When I was watching the opera “Tannhäuser” recently, I was struck by the point that the pilgrims were going to Rome for the “Gnadenfest,” the Feast of Mercy. I knew that Pope Francis had proclaimed Dec. 8 – Nov. 20 as a “Year of Mercy” and the Pope John Paul II had designated the Sunday after Easter as “Divine Mercy Sunday and I wondered what this mediæval predecessor might be. Was it Wagner’s invention, or did something of the sort actually happen? We know that pilgrimages crisscrossed Europe to various destinations: Rome, Compostela, Canterbury, and many other, less famous, shrines. But a specific Feast of Mercy at Rome was unfamiliar to me.

It all became clear when I was looking up the topic of Jubilee Years. I found an article on Wikipedia which gives a history of Jubilee Years in the Catholic Church. The article notes that although the first one which is fully documented was proclaimed by Pope Boniface VIII in 1300, it seems probable “that the proclamation of the Jubilee owed its origin to the statements of certain aged pilgrims who persuaded Boniface that great indulgences had been granted to all pilgrims in Rome about a hundred years before. It is also noteworthy that in the Chronicle of Alberic of Three Fountains, under the year 1208 (not, be it noted 1200), we find this brief entry: ‘It is said that this year was celebrated as the fiftieth year, or the year of jubilee and remission, in the Roman Court.'” So the Feast of Mercy in “Tannhäuser” wasn’t a particular day, but the Jubilee Year of 1208 — which is consistent with the timing of the action of the opera.

The original idea was to have a Jubilee Year once every hundred years, but another was held in 1350, and in 1475, a 25 year interval became the norm. This gives most people a chance to participate in one during their lifetime.

But what is a Jubilee? The Book of Leviticus, 25:8-55, prescribes a year of jubilee for the Israelites every fiftieth year. Prominent among its requirements were that all land revert to its original owner — any sale was only valid until the next jubilee. Indentures ended with the jubilee as did slavery to aliens in the land of Israel. In the Church, the concept of jubilee was transformed into one of spiritual liberation. Those who went on pilgrimage to Rome and visited the four major basilicas for a specified number of days could gain a plenary indulgence: a remission of all temporal punishment (in this life or in purgatory) for previous sins.

Pope Francis decided to proclaim an extraordinary Jubilee Year* (the next ordinary one would be in 2025) to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council. Prominent themes are God’s constant mercy toward his people, the Church’s proclamation of God’s mercy to all people, and our personal practice of mercy toward one another in the form of the traditionally identified corporal and spiritual works of mercy. While the Bull of Indiction proclaiming this Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy (summary here) does not give specifics about the required pilgrimages and the available indulgences for participation, it is clear that the elements of pilgrimage and the granting of indulgences are part of it. To provide for the widest possible participation, there are to be places in every diocese in the world to which the pilgrimage may be made, as was the case with the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000.

Here is an article about the opening of this Jubilee. And here’s one about the Jubilee in general.

*This is different from the special themes that Popes often assign to years to encourage the faithful to pay attention to those themes. We have had years of the priesthood, of consecrated life, and various elements of church life recently. I had thought until recently that the Year of Mercy was another such year. Being a Jubilee Year notably raises its significance.

Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, December 8, 2015

The dogma of the Immaculate Conception wasn’t made up by Pope Pius XI in 1854, when he solemnly defined it. As early as the 5th Century, there was recorded discussion of the matter. St. Augustine opposed it because he believed that original sin was transmitted by human biological reproduction, and therefore Mary must have inherited it along with everybody else except Jesus who was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit. But alongside that theological belief there was also growing in East and West a liturgical celebration of the Conception of Mary. In the 15th Century the Feast was promulgated for the whole Church, without defining it as a dogma. In 1661 Pope Alexander VII stated that “Mary, in consideration of the merits of Jesus Christ her son … was preserved intact from the stain of original sin,” citing the consensus of the Christian people. So it was no novelty when Pius IX declared that that doctrine is “a doctrine revealed by God” which all the faithful are obliged to believe.
The scriptures assigned to the Mass for the Solemnity, December 8, situate Mary within salvation history.

Our first reading — Genesis 3:9-15, 20 — tells the aftermath of the first sin. Most significant for this feast is what is called the “protoevangelium,” the first gospel. The offspring of the woman would strike at the head of the serpent. While this can be read in a generic sense, it makes sense to read it as addressed to the one who tempted Adam and Eve, the devil, and for there to be a specific individual offspring, namely Jesus, who overcomes the devil.

Reflecting on Jesus who overcomes the sin of Adam and restores humanity — the second Adam — leads to the thought of a second Eve, who is the mother of the restored humanity, namely Mary, as Jesus said to John, “Behold your mother.”

In verses 1-4 of Psalm 98, we rejoice at God’s marvelous work of saving us, his people.

The second reading — Ephesians 1:3-6, 11-12 — gives us another expression if the idea we see implied in the protoevagelium of Genesis: God planned from all eternity to save us through the work of Jesus Christ. Mary’s salvation is through her son, not independent of him. Her role in the unfolding of God’s plan is a part of that plan.
The gospel presents the scene of the Annunciation. (Because this passage refers to the conception of Jesus, some people get confused and think this feast is about Jesus’ conception by the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit, but it isn’t. It’s about the conception of Mary without original sin ever touching her soul.) As in the other readings, Mary’s significance comes from her role in the events of her and our salvation. Two phrases point to her immaculate conception. The angel addresses her as “full of grace.” If we take this literally, it means that there is no deficiency in her spirit, no element where grace is lacking. But original sin would have been a lack of grace. Then Mary characterizes herself as “the handmaid of the Lord.” We see this statement as absolutely true. Others of us may be imperfect servants or handmaids of the Lord, but she was the perfect handmaid of the Lord: her will in unbroken accord with his because it was unstained by original sin.

This passage is not an logical syllogism proving the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, but it corroborates it, and it is one of the passages, along with the one from Genesis and others, which formed the basis for the theological reflection which led to the development of the doctrine within the Church under the continuing guidance of the Holy Spirit.
And is there a lesson for us? Sometimes, we just rejoice in what God has done to save us, and I think that should be our primary focus: praise and thanksgiving. But we also learn that grace can overcome all sin. We can have forgiveness for our past sins; but beyond that, we are under no compulsion to sin. God’s grace is sufficient to enable us to avoid sin. We need to accept and cooperate with that grace.

Sunday Scriptures — Advent C 2, Dec. 06, 2015

We continue to look forward to the return of Jesus in glory.
Baruch 5:1-9 — the first reading, promises a return of the exiles to Jerusalem, which is mourning their loss. The exile was ignominious, but the return will be glorious, with obstacles of the terrain removed for an easy passage. The glory of Jerusalem will be manifest to the whole world.

As Christians, we understand this passage, and similar ones — notably Isaiah 52:1, 49:22, 61:10, 62:3, 49:22, and 40:3 — as having their ultimate fulfillment in the heavenly Jerusalem of Revelation 21, to which we hope to be gathered. Some ancient writers see the mitre displaying the glory of the eternal name as referring to the cross of Jesus. Baruch’s expectation may have been that Israel’s glory would be manifest to the world, but we see an expanded sense in which all nations are called to join God’s people and share on the glory of the returnees.

Psalm 126 places on our lips and in our hearts the joy of the people God has rescued.
In the second reading — Philippians 1:4-6, 8-11 — Paul has the “day of Christ Jesus,” that is the day of his return, in mind. God has begun the good work of our salvation. It remains to be completed but Paul is confident. He prays that the Philippians — and we — will continue to grow in love and knowledge so we can live good lives, such as will complete the good work of our salvation.
The gospel — Luke 3:1-5 — tells of the beginning of the work of John the Baptist, placing it in the 15th year of the reign of the emperor Tiberius. Tiberius’ reign began in the year 14 A.D. so the events of this passage are dated in 28 or 29, which is consistent with the governorship of Pontius Pilate (26-36) and the high priesthood of Caiaphas (18-36). Luke sees John’s ministry as fulfilling the words of Isaiah 40:3-5 (which find an echo in our reading from Baruch, as noted above.

People need to repent, to turn away from their sins so as to receive the forgiveness God offers. At the time John began preaching and baptizing, Jesus had been born, so this is not in preparation for his birth. But Jesus hadn’t yet begun his public ministry: John is preparing the people for the Lord to appear as their savior in his public ministry.

As we await the final appearance of Jesus bringing the fullness of redemption, the call to repentance and conversion is addressed to us as it was to the people of John’s time.