Stay awake praying at all times for the strength to survive all that is going to happen. Luke 21:36
2 December 2018, 1st Sunday of Advent
Jeremiah 33:14–16, Psalm 24(25):4–5,8–9,10,14, 1 Thessalonians 3:12–4:2, Luke 21:25–28, 34–36
Jesus paints a pretty grim picture of human life. Upheaval everywhere; people dying of fear; the world shaken to its foundations. Difficult times were ahead. His followers would face an uncertain future.
In the midst of all this clamour, how are they/we to respond? Stand up, hold your head high. When things get tough, we are still faced with a choice. We can either throw up our hands in despair and give up, or we can rise in faith to face what is to come. But, before we can make an informed choice, we need to accept responsibility for ourselves. We need to hold ourselves accountable. So,
when the worst happens, the first place to look is within ourselves.
Yes, it is true that to some degree we are all victims. We didn’t choose to be born into this world with all of its complexities and conflicts. It is not our fault that traditional institutions are falling down around us and that the values we hold dear are ignored by majority of the population. Most of the wrong things in the world are beyond our control. But, we are responsible for how
we respond; for how we live in this world. Jesus invites us to stand firm, show a little courage, and help will be available. When life gets hard, we are not left to our own devices.
Lord, help me to believe that I am closest to you in my suffering and struggles with my sinfulness. Amen.
Fr Sean Cullen
The Meeting between Joachim and Anne at the Golden Gate – Giotto di Bondone (1266–1337)
“The Meeting between Joachim and Anne at the Golden Gate”, c. 1303–1310. Fresco, from the series with scenes from the lives of Mary and Christ. Cappella degli Scrovegni, Padua, Italy. akg-images / Cameraphoto.
Into this first week falls the solemn feast of Our Lady’s Immaculate Conception. It is fitting, for Mary’s birth signals the final stage of God’s preparation for our redemption. This is the Woman predicted in the opening pages of the Book of Genesis, the Woman who would be the eternal enemy of the serpent.
Mary’s conception and birth are, of course, not recorded in Scripture. The artist, Giotto—no stranger to those who follow our Advent and Lenten reflections—is inspired by the “Golden Legend”—a medieval document filling-in the gaps of the Gospel accounts. This document, in turn, relies on earlier evidence, some of which may well be true. The names of Joachim and Anne come to us from a document dated about A.D. 165. The writer tells us that Joachim and Anne were well on in years and that Mary’s birth was an answer to their prayers. Over their house in Jerusalem—Mary’s place of birth—St Helena, mother of Constantine, had a church built. It was restored by the Crusaders and is considered a perfect example of Crusader architecture.
God promised Abraham that he would be the father of a great nation, and from his descendants would come the promised Saviour. God is very patient. Even when his people kept forgetting his promise, God sent prophet after prophet to remind them of his love. Finally, he sent his own Son. The time was right when a creature existed who was ready to love God with her whole being—Mary. “I am the handmaid of the Lord,” (Luke 1:38) she told the angel.
Mary’s holiness is, of course, God’s gift. But, on the human level, Mary was prepared for her great role by her parents. Joachim and Anne are the end-of-the-line of a whole series of generations of devout Jewish people who faithfully performed their religious duties and established an atmosphere for the coming of the Promised One. Anne means “grace”, and Joachim means “Yahweh prepares”.
Mary’s own life tells us something of the character of Joachim and Anne. Middle Eastern families are close-knit. Mary’s strong character in making momentous decisions, her continuous practice of prayer (evidenced by St Luke), her devotion to her relatives (indicated in her going in haste to help her aged and pregnant cousin, Elizabeth) can only reflect the values passed down to her by her parents.
One of the great Fathers of the Church, St John Damascene, salutes these saintly parents in these words: “Joachim and Anne, how blessed a couple! All creation is indebted to you. For at your hands the Creator was offered a gift excelling all other gifts: a chaste mother, who alone was worthy of him” (Oratio 6, in Nativitatem B. Mariae V).
God chose to enter the world through a family—his Mother’s family and the home of Mary and Joseph. It reminds parents and grandparents that they have a responsibility to set the tone for future generations. The life lived by the Church is a combination of Scripture and Tradition. “Tradition” comes from the Latin word “to pass on”. The Church’s faith is passed on mainly in the family. When this happens, the parish can truly be called “the family of families”.
Joachim and Anne have a message also for the younger generation. They remind the young that older people have a depth of experience, a greater perspective, a patience and an appreciation of life’s rhythms that must not be taken for granted. In the words of the Second Vatican Council: “The family is the foundation of society. In it, the various generations come together and help one another to grow wiser” (Gaudium et spes, 52).
Monsignor Graham Schmitzer
With thanks to the of Diocese of Wollongong who have supplied the weekly Advent and Christmas 2018 reflections from their publication, Saviour—Daily Advent and Christmas Reflections 2018. You can read the reflections as they are published here.