Thoughts on This Sunday: Advent II

As a semi-regular feature, Pray Tell will be running “Thoughts on This Sunday,” which will be some rather informal remarks on the readings for the upcoming Sunday. These are not complete homilies or even comprehensive notes on the readings, but simply some ideas or texts to get the homiletic juices flowing.

We modern Westerners don’t go in for apocalyptic much these days, perhaps because we are pretty comfortable with the way things are and are not particularly anxious for their overturning. But both the first and second readings present eschatological hope in terms of dramatic, cosmic transformation: mountains being made low, rugged land being made plains, the heavens passing away with a might roar, and the element being dissolved by fire.

The Second Letter of Peter goes on to pose this interesting question: “Since everything is to be dissolved in this way, what sort of persons ought you to be?” (I couldn’t help but notice that the American lectionary omits the question mark in this sentence). Peter provides something of an answer as well: we should be “waiting for and hastening the coming day of God.”

With regard to God’s consummation of history, we both “wait” and “hasten.” Here is the paradox of all of us who live between the times. We are not in charge of history’s consummation. God is. And so our stance within history is one of waiting. But somehow, in ways that are often hidden, our anxious waiting is the means by which we hasten the kingdom. Our waiting is active, not passive. As the book of Revelation says, both the Spirit and the Bride say “Come.”

Perhaps John the Baptist, who appears in today’s Gospel, is the model of this waiting that hastens. John is hardly passive – crying out, calling people to repentance – yet his stance is entirely one of anticipation.  His hope is not grounded in his own efforts, but in “one mightier than I.”

Parents – particularly parents of teenagers – often have the seemingly conflicting desire that their children both be patient with themselves and not try to rush adulthood, and at the same time take charge of their lives and do something. Growing into adulthood takes time, but it also doesn’t happen unless we actively seek to become adults. Otherwise, we remain arrested adolescents. This is perhaps a shadowing image of God’s desires for us: both that we wait patiently for the fulfillment of the Kingdom and at the same time actively work to hasten it.

The new translation of the Missal is perhaps a good occasion for us to exercise the waiting that hastens. We certainly need to try to learn the new responses, to proclaim well the new texts, and – most importantly – to pray in these new words. But we must also be patient; these things take time. The waiting that hastens is not a comfortable place to be, but it is where we live as Christians.


  1. Is the new translation of the Missal a time for us to move past/beyond the “sola lectio” approach to the Sunday Eucharist? In addition to the readings, why not take a more in-depth preview of the proper prayers as well? Perhaps use the texts as mutual lenses.
    I’m not criticizing this use of the PrayTell blog, but since the homily can be about texts other than the Lectionary pericopes, why not open up the treasures of the entire Sunday more lavishly? (Thanks, CSL!)
    At the very least – this is the musician in me – please include the second proclamation of scripture from the Sunday Lectionary (the psalm) in these reflections.

    1. “A homily on the sacred text means an explanation, pertinent to the mystery celebrated and the special needs of the listeners, of some point in either the readings from sacred Scripture or in another text from the Ordinary or Proper of the day’s Mass.” (Inter Oecumenici, 54; cf. GIRM 65)

      As much as I appreciate a good scriptural homily, I do wish more priests would consider the “treasures” of the whole liturgical celebration at hand.

      1. Amen, Jeffrey

        In general we need a more holistic approach to the Liturgy, making a particular point in the context of the whole Mass of the Day, and also of the whole Divine Office for the week, and of seeing the Gospel in the context of the whole Gospel of Mark for the year.

        My comments below about the Gospel of Mark for this day begin with looking at it in terms not only of the Gospel of Mark’s literary structure but also on how that Gospel is going to be used in the course of this liturgical year.

        Given the great resources for the Divine Office available through the internet, the lack of resources for the Divine Office in our parishes, and the fact that priests and deacons should themselves be praying the Divine Office, relating the Sunday Liturgy to the weekly Divine Office might be a very fruitful way of making the Divine Office more accessible and relevant for both priests and people.

    2. I am dubious about this – the Scriptures form the base of Christian tradition and have stood the test of time. The prayers, whatever anyone may think of them, were written relatively recently and subject to change. For comparison, I think many (the many?) would object if there was a homily week after week based on the Irish Jesuit web site, Sacred Space rather than the Gospel. The prayers are the setting, the background for the Scriptures and shouldn’t become the focus.

    3. Alan,

      I agree about the psalm, but I tend not to consider it since our music director often chooses a seasonal psalm or a paraphrase that might or might not have the verse I would want to focus on. It’s a matter I plan to raise at some point in the future, but it is not at the top of my list.

      I agree somewhat about the other Mass texts, though I tend to bring them in more as an adjunct to the scriptures, which I make the focus of the homily. For example, if the preface has a phrase that drives home a point made in the scripture I might refer to that. I wouldn’t rule out preaching on a Mass text without reference to the scriptures, but I wouldn’t do it very often.

  2. Two suggestions:

    A more precise title, e.g Thoughts on the coming Advent II Sunday. Helpful for the Archiving and so we can separate out next Sunday from current and last Sundays.

    A statement of the Readings
    READING 1 IS 40:1-5, 9-11
    RESPONSORIAL PSALM PS 85:9-10-11-12, 13-14
    READING 2 2 PT 3:8-14
    GOSPEL MK 1:1-8

    and link to them

    like Alan I think a link to the new prayers, or even to the propers might be nice but we would be going in the direction of a Catholic The Text this Week blog.

    Perhaps for the time being we should challenge those who want to include the new prayers (or the old prayers, or the 1998 prayers) or the propers to give us some concrete examples of their value through their reflective comments using them.

    Hope we have a positive and creative go at this. Nice idea.

  3. The Prologue is a great example of Mark’s concentric writing;. The baptism of Christ is at the center: Mark in the desert on one side: Jesus in the desert on the other. The key is to interpret the periphery in terms of the center; the center in the context of the periphery: the two sides in contrast with each other.

    A + B is the read on the 2nd Sunday of Advent
    B +C is read on the Baptism of Christ (not a Sunday this year)
    D is read on the 1st Sunday of Lent
    I would begin by considering the big picture how to interrelate all this.

    A. As it is written in Isaiah the prophet:
    Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you;
    he will prepare your way.
    A voice of one crying out in the desert:
    “Prepare the way of the Lord,
    make straight his paths.”
    John the Baptist appeared in the desert
    proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
    People of the whole Judean countryside
    and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem
    were going out to him
    and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River
    as they acknowledged their sins.
    John was clothed in camel’s hair,
    with a leather belt around his waist.
    He fed on locusts and wild honey.
    And this is what he proclaimed:

    B. “One mightier than I is coming after me.
    I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals.
    I have baptized you with water;
    he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

    C. It happened in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee
    and was baptized in the Jordan by John.
    On coming up out of the water he saw the heavens being torn open
    and the Spirit, like a dove, descending upon him.
    And a voice came from the heavens,
    “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased

    D. The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert,
    and he remained in the desert for forty days,
    tempted by Satan.
    He was among wild beasts,
    and the angels ministered to him.
    After John had been arrested,
    Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God:
    “This is the time of fulfillment.
    The kingdom of God is at hand.
    Repent, and believe in the gospel.”

      1. Yes, and one can view the whole Gospel of Mark as a big sandwich composed of the following key events indicated by the bolded same Greek words.

        On coming up out of the water he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit, like a dove, descending upon him.
        And a voice came from the heavens, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” (Mar 1:10-1 NAB)

        Then a cloud came, casting a shadow over them; then from the cloud came a voice, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.” (Mar 9:7 NAB)

        Jesus gave a loud cry (voice) and breathed his last.
        The veil of the sanctuary was torn in two from top to bottom. (Mar 15:37-38 NAB)

        Depending upon what rules one invokes, one can find many, many or far fewer “sandwiches.” Scholars debate a lot about how many there are.

        Rather than considering this as formal literary style, I suspect it was a thinking and communicating style (circular versus linear) that was shaped by creating texts to be heard orally rather than reading them visually. I think of it as a form of oral punctuation that is meant to tell the hearer a lot about how to interpret the message.

        Mark often uses the same Greek words to punctuate things. In the Prologue above “desert” occurs 4 times, twice in each part of the sandwich. “Voice” occurs twice, one in each part of the sandwich. There is a messenger on one side, and angels on the other -same Greek word.

        It is present in a lot of other places than Mark, again depending upon how strictly one classifies things.

    1. The Greek word eremos from which we get eremitic, occurs nine times in Mark. The four times that it occurs in the Prologue, the NAB translates it as “desert”, while in the remaining five it is translated as “deserted place.”

      The basic meaning is more sociological than physical or psychological. It is an uncultivated, uninhabited, or abandoned place, a place without the order of law, society and culture. Therefore, it is a place of both freedom and chaos, greater potential for good or evil.

      In the Bible great sociological, “nation building” events take place in the desert such as the return from the Exile reflected in Isaiah, or the liberation of Israel from Egypt so that they might go into the desert to worship God, and be given the law. Pharaoh understood that going into the desert meant Israel would be out of the reach of his law, social structures and values.

      In the year of Mark we are invited into the “desert” both with John in Advent and Jesus in Lent. Both times ought to be times of social as well as personal spiritual renewal when we are invited to step outside the assumptions built into the social structures and cultures of our nation, our economy, our business organizations, professions, our parishes, our dioceses into a desert place of freedom but also a wilderness.

      The thirty day retreat as a Jesuit novice has shaped my experience of the liturgical year. I view Advent in terms of the first week. It is a time to review the foundations, of a return to the basics and the deepest and lasting values of our nation, our economy, our professional organizations, our parishes and churches. Discovering both where Christ is already present but also where Christ still needs to come.

      The Lenten desert is very different. We are the baptized with Christ and full of the Spirit in the desert of freedom and chaos. It is the third week of the exercises, a time of discernment among positive possibilities. What do we choose in light of cross?

    2. The first biblical voice heard in the desert was that of the son of Hagar, who had been sent to potentially die there by Sarah and Abraham:

      God heard the boy’s cry (voice), and God’s messenger (angel) called to Hagar from heaven: “What is the matter, Hagar? Don’t be afraid; God has heard the boy’s cry in this plight of his. Arise, lift up the boy and hold him by the hand; for I will make of him a great nation.” Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water.

      The child’s cry (voice / phone) in the desert prefigures Christ’s cry (voice / phone) on the cross and that God will lift Christ (as God’s child) up and make of him a great nation through the waters of baptism welling up in a place of freedom beyond social structures and cultural values

      The God of the Bible is a God with a preferential love for children who saves “unwanted” children, e.g. the child of Hagar, the child Moses, and the child Jesus.

      In Mark, Jesus raises the daughter of a synagogue official (5:4), drives out a demon from the daughter of a Gentile (7:29), heals a boy from a demon and raises him up (9:27), welcomes and blesses children (10:14), proclaiming them as models of receiving the Kingdom (10:15), and identifies service of children as service of himself:

      Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the one who sent me. (9:37)

      In Gutiérrez’s course at Notre Dame, he said the Vatican made a modification to one of the major documents of the Latin American Bishops adding “children” at the head of the list of poor people, native American’s etc. that the Bishops said were to be given preference.

      Perhaps even more than a spirituality of the poor, we need a spirituality of the children for the developed world as much as that of the less developed world.

      The Gospel of Mark is a good place, and this year a good time to explore such a spirituality.

  4. I look forward to this new series of reflections.

    A few years ago, we replaced a brief opening prayer that began our weekly staff meetings with an extended lectio divina. Yesterday, we added the new collect of Advent II as an opening prayer to our reflections on the readings. We concluded our prayer with the 1998 ICEL alternative opening prayers found in Opening Prayers: Collects in Contemporary Language, Canterbury Press, Norwich, published in conjunction with the Joint Liturgical Group of Great Britain. Both prayers enriched our understanding and prepared us to experience Sunday liturgy more profoundly.

    I second Alan’s notion that the Psalm should be included and expect to be enriched by the contributions of our online community here.

    Cathedral of St Matthew the Apostle

  5. This year the readings seem connected to the arrival of the new missal.

    In the second reading, the word “all” (not “many”) jumps out of the page immediately.
    ” [The Lord] is patient with you,
    not wishing that any should perish
    but that all should come to repentance.”

    The first reading, alluded to in the Gospel, suggest that the way to reveal the glory of God is to eliminate obstacles, simplify the way, and create a clear, direct path:
    Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God!
    Every valley shall be filled in,
    every mountain and hill shall be made low;
    the rugged land shall be made a plain,
    the rough country, a broad valley.
    Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed

  6. Many years ago there was a Dominican priest who traveled the country giving workshops on preaching as well as parish missions. I think his last name was Burke but might be wrong. While he emphasized preaching from the lectionary, he was able to bring in doctrinal teachings in a systematic way from the Scriptures.
    I would like to see also suggestions for preaching not just from the lectionary but from the propers of the Mass. I’ve neglected that and seldom if ever focus on the Psalm. It never occurred to me to focus on some aspect of the Opening Collect. That would be interesting too.

    1. I suggest that one benefit of focusing on some aspect of the Collect from time to time is that as you do, people might listen more carefully and pay more attention to it if they think an idea from it might be used in the homily. If you do use it in the homily, you signal to the congregation that the prayer has a certain degree of importance some of them might not ordinarily have associated with the Collect.

  7. This past Sunday (1st Sunday of Advent), given that we were using the Propers of the new translation of the RM for the first time – we’d been using some parts of the Ordinary of the Mass on previous Sundays – I preached on the theme “The Heart of the Advent Christian”, using the texts of the Collect and the Prayer after Communion. With the latter I took note of the ‘howler’ mentioned in Monsignior Griffiths letter to The Tablet, and also tagged on this blog. I received some positive feedback from some members of the congregation, so as planned, for this coming Sunday I am putting together a homily based again on the Collect and the Prayer after Communion, but above all working in some ideas from the First Advent Preface.
    For some years now I have tried to make use of the Collect and/or the Preface for Solemnities and during seasons such as Advent and Christmas in my homilies. Also many years back I preached an Easter homily based on the Exultet and the Gospel.
    Could it be that too many celebrants/preachers are leaning to heavily on homily aids whether printed or online, and not exploring all the texts we proclaim and pray on a given day.

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