Monday of the Second Week of Advent




Lectionary: 181


The desert and the parched land will exult; the steppe will rejoice and bloom. They will bloom with abundant flowers, and rejoice with joyful song. The glory of Lebanon will be given to them, the splendor of Carmel and Sharon; They will see the glory of the LORD, the splendor of our God. Strengthen the hands that are feeble, make firm the knees that are weak, Say to those whose hearts are frightened: Be strong, fear not!


The Prophet Isaiah, reflecting the Jewish religion of his time and city, has a holistic view of God's action in the world. Grace enlivens the spirit; it also strengthens hands and knees, reassures hearts, and revitalizes the lifeless desert. God's mercy knows no bounds as it floods a barren world. Levies, city walls and personal anxieties collapse before the rush of God's mercy. Grace washes over a city like good news, like the day when we learn the approaching enemy has turned back or a threatening plague is abating. Anxious leaders and people can greet one another without demanding the latest news, without asking how much food remains in the granary or water in the cistern. People can laugh, flirt, tease and gossip again, knowing they had the same conversation last week, and will again next week. Grace, in Isaiah's vision, comes to all the people all at once. 
In a later time another prophet, Jeremiah, will experience grace as a particular action upon one person. He was given the grace of prophecy despite his initial reluctance to receive it; it would be a terrible burden for him. 
In our time, we think of grace almost exclusively as a blessing on one person: a vocation, calling or identity. The philosophy of individuality finds its Christian roots in that "personal relationship with Jesus." Isaiah would not have understood a spirituality that borders on narcissism. When God blesses one he blesses everyone. 
When people ask me about the shortage of priests I remind them there are more priests today than there was at the time of the Vatican Council. We have seen the Church blossom in Africa, Asia and South America. If Europe and North America have lost faith and the Church appears in decline in those western nations, it's because the flood of grace is not washing these parts as it does other places. 
That should come as no surprize to anyone who believes in the rights of an infant to be born or a child to parents who live with and love each other. Divorce, abortion, racism, consumerism, the cult of death and violence: the sins we take for granted as quintessentially American must have their consequences. The only churches that thrive in such an environment must obsequiously welcome and accept these abominations. 
The Catholic Church in the United States is more cactus-like; it may appear spiny and unapproachable to many but it contains rich graces for those who nestle within its juicy core.  
I love to hear these Advent readings from the prophets. The Word of God promises a new spring, almost unimaginable in its profuse fertility: 
For the vision is a witness for the appointed time, a testimony to the end; it will not disappoint. If it delays, wait for it, it will surely come, it will not be late. Habakkuk 2:3

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I love to write. This blog helps me to meditate on the Word of God, and I hope to make some contribution to our contemplations of God's Mighty Works.

Ordinarily, I write these reflections two or three weeks in advance of their publication. I do not intend to comment on current events.

I understand many people prefer gender-neutral references to "God." I don't disagree with them but find that language impersonal, unappealing and tasteless. When I refer to "God" I think of the One whom Jesus called "Abba" and "Father", and I would not attempt to improve on Jesus' language.

You're welcome to add a thought or raise a question.