3rd Sunday of Advent A

As your models take the prophets

Where have all the heroes gone? Today when a public leader does something worthy of praise, a host of critics arises to publicize his weaknesses. They seem to hate heroes. Who, therefore, make the headlines today? Usually celebrities. (Step down Abraham Lincoln, martyr to duty. Elvis Presley needs your pedestal so that his devotees may see him better through their tears!)

Yet, you and I need heroes – true heroes, and as many as we can discover. Only they can inspire us to live up to the potential God gave us. That is why St. James tells us in today’s second reading, “As your models in suffering hardships and in patience, brothers, take the prophets!”

The prophets were the saints of the Old Testament. There are plenty of other models in the New Testament times – saints and near-saints. Some of them are in our own families.

One of my favorite heroes is Archbishop Charles Hughes, the “Apostle of Alaska.” A brilliant, cheerful Belgian, ordained a priest in 1863, he volunteered for perhaps the hardest of the American Missions – the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. Eventually he became bishop of Vancouver and Archbishop of Oregon. But despite the titles he remained the same tireless missionary in those wild and often trackless lands.

Here is what he wrote to a friend about his activities: “My tour lasted sixteen months. Altogether I traveled a distance of about 5,000 miles. I confirmed 800 people. I traveled by steamboat, railway, coach, cart, sled, foot and hand-car. Once an accident to the coach hurled me into the snow; I have been thrown from a horse onto rocks; once, riding without a saddle, I was thrown into water. Crossing the desert I have traveled forty-five miles without finding water, and here I am, as full of life as ever!”

Bishop Seghere, accepting everything that happened with good will, was even ready for martyrdom. That came, too. In 1886, when he was on an Alaskan missionary journey up the Yukon, a crazed man pointed a gun at him. Charles saw what was coming. He knelt and folded his arms across his heart in a gesture of resignation. The man fired.

If Charles Seghere had been able to do heroic things even to the point of death, must he not have had his own models to inspire him? His special hero was St. Livinus. St. Livinus was the Irish missionary who had brought the faith to Belgium and suffered martyrdom there for the gospel he preached. Charles had entrusted his own heroic missionary career to St. Livinus’ inspiration and protection.

Who are our heroes? If we have not singled out some noble persons to admire and imitate, we will end up in sheer mediocrity. But if we follow our heroes faithfully, maybe we can even inspire somebody else.

-Father Robert F. McNamara

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Q297: John the Baptist’s disciples came to Jesus and asked him if he was the anticipated Messiah (Mt 11:2-11). Why did he just respond with another question (i.e., “What did you go out to see?”)?

Several times Jesus used this questioning or “Socratic” method, and this is one of them. He asked a question not because of an inability to answer the original question, but rather to lead the questioners to discover the truth for themselves. It is on this “journey of discovery” that one understands, through a personal encounter with reality.

“What did you go out to see?” This is a really great question to open the minds of the listeners. Jesus is saying, “look at my works – what do you see?” Still another way to ask the question is: “Who do you say that I am?” Actions speak louder than words, and the measure of a man can be obtained, in part, by observing those actions. If the blind are healed, cripples walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, and the dead are raised, those very works point toward the Messiah – the One who came to fulfill the scriptures (in this case, the words of Isaiah 35:1-6, our First Reading).

One of the great seventeenth century saints said that “it is our works, whether good or bad, that form us, and it is by them that we ought to be recognized.” There comes a necessary time that we cease observing the good works of others, and begin to emulate and practice those virtues. This is how one becomes formed or molded into a true disciple, and discovers the presence of Jesus in those he/she encounters.

KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! We can perceive God in nature, the things that He has made (CCC #32). Both God and People reveal their true nature by their actions (CCC #236). The existence of God can be known with certainty through His works, perceived with our reason (CCC #286). Look around you: who do you say that Jesus is?

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Q. 454: Today we hear a lot about “expectations.” How can we translate that into an active participation in life today?

Today’s readings remind me of that old hit song from the 1956 musical, Carousel: “June is busting out all over!’ All is the occasion for joy; all is total exuberance and excitement, as the actors celebrate all that is good in life. In the First Reading (Is 35:1-6a,10), that is exactly what the prophet Isaiah is prophesying: God is coming in visible form to save his people! Even the dry desert will rejoice, as it blooms with flowers. But there is more, Isaiah says: when God comes in this special way, impossible healings will take place. The blind will see, the deaf will hear, and those with voice impediments will sing! All of those things are clear signs that anyone can see, and recognize behind the signs the divine power of God intervening in life.

In our Second Reading (James 5:7-10), St. James encourages everyone to be patient; in a little while the harvest will come and yield its bounty. Then in the Gospel (Matt 11:2-11), St. John the Baptist – perhaps a wee bit impatient – just has to find out if it is harvest time. He sends word to Jesus, asking if he is “the One who is to come.” Jesus tells him to “look at the signs.” What is happening to the blind, the cripples, the lepers, and the deaf? What signs do you see? No one could mistake the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy in the actions and person of Jesus Christ.

What about us? Can we see the obvious signs of God’s presence in our daily lives? Can we see the “reflection” of God in his creation? Can we see Christ in every person we meet? Do we hear Christ in the official pronouncements of our Magisterium? If not, what do we need to change, in order to see the God that is really here, and wants us to live accordingly?

KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! Despite the obvious “signs” and miracles, some people still rejected Jesus (CCC #548). Each of us must strive to interpret the “signs of the times,” and accept the help of the Church and the Holy Spirit (CCC #1788).

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