The readings from Isaiah and Luke illustrate the ambiguous attitude many people have towards the sacred and the holy. On the one hand, we claim that we yearn for God's presence, and we complain that God seems so distant. But on the other hand, we are petrified at the thought of an encounter with the divine or holy.
The Israelites were unaware how far they had strayed from the path of God. Although the prophets hammered at them unceasingly that their exile in Babylon was due to sin, their actual transgressions had perhaps remained unclear in their minds. But they are ignorant no longer, for the public recitation of the law has hit them hard.
Physical injuries can be easier to overcome than shame and disgrace, for the latter can cut deeply into the heart and soul. The people of Israel considered themselves disgraced before the nations: they had been abandoned or punished by their God and reduced to slavery.
We should not be dazzled or deceived by appearances, glamour or power. Great things and great people come from humble beginnings. This passage from Micah spoke to the people of the eighth century BC, who had suffered destruction and deportation.
Second Sunday of Advent (Year C) Dec. 10 (Baruch 5:1-9; Psalm 126; Philippians 1:3-6, 8-11; Luke 3:1-6)
It is always a struggle to remember the past, for there are so many ways of remembering. We can remember with bitterness, anger, fear or even shame. This was probably the situation of the exiles in Babylon for whom this prophecy was given. The horror of the destruction of Jerusalem and the deportation to Babylon was still a vivid memory. And then there was the sense of helplessness and degradation that results from being captives.
Some questions seem to be our companions for life. I used to think they would get answered and go away. Now I'm less surprised to hear people of 25, 35, 45, 75, asking what I'd thought was the proper concern of the 15-year-old: "What am I supposed to do with my life?"
First Sunday of Advent (Year C), Dec. 3 (Jeremiah 33:14-16; Psalm 25; 1 Thessalonians 3:12-4:2; Luke 21:25-28, 34-36
The predictions and prophecies made in our own lifetimes seldom square with what actually comes to pass. Today most of them are very negative and are designed to generate fear (and perhaps wealth and power for those who capitalize on that fear). Often we are surprised as events take unforeseen directions.
How does one maintain hope and belief in goodness, justice, freedom and decency in the face of evil and oppression? For many who suffered under the tyranny of Nazism and communism, evil must have seemed supreme and unconquerable. Many must have yearned for a heroic and powerful figure who would put things right.
Every generation labours under the conceit that the world they have inherited is the worst and its suffering unique. Anguish is very real to those who experience it, but it is also relative.
Visiting a very poor country is often a disturbing experience but it can also be moving and enlightening. Many people who are living in stark poverty practise incredible generosity and hospitality. People share with a visitor or guest what little they have and it is done with a pleasant and joyful attitude.
After intensive soul-searching and searing heartache, a person I know has divorced. She aches for her children and for herself as a Catholic facing lonely solitude. A faithful person, she thought she was following the voice of love, both in getting married and in the way she tried to live her marriage. How could love have led her to divorce?