Prepare a way for the Lord. Matthew 3:3
8 December 2019, 2nd Sunday of Advent
Isaiah 11:1–10, Psalm 71 (72): 1–2, 7–8, 12–13, 17, Romans 15:4–9, Matthew 3:1–12
I remember when my mum was expecting my youngest sister, Gemma. As the day approached, Dad went around the house tidying the floor, putting away toys, removing clutter or trip hazards so that Mum could walk safely around the house without the risk of falling over objects left lying around.
I remember a place in the family home being prepared —the crib (or cot) was set up in my parents’ bedroom, and the house was given a good clean. Finally, my mum gave birth and the waiting and expectation was over, and when she arrived home from hospital, the house was filled with a sense of joy and wonder at the presence of the new arrival—our little baby sister.
During the season of Advent, this is how we are called to “prepare a way for the Lord” (Mt 3:3). We are called to prepare our homes—the home of our heart—by removing some of the clutter and trip hazards within the heart; the baggage we might carry; grudges or resentments we might be clinging on to, so that our hearts are a clean safe place, ready to receive the child Jesus.
In doing so, we imitate our Blessed Lady. For Mary was so open to receiving God that, quite literally, she conceived God inside her womb. But in a spiritual sense, we are called to be so open to receiving God that we conceive God in the womb of our hearts, so to speak. And, just as Mary gave birth to God in that stable in Bethlehem, so also, we are called to birth God into our world through all our kind words and acts of charity. It might sound incredible, but like Mary, we also become mothers of God. As Jesus said, “Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother, and sister, and mother” (Mt 12:50).
Lord, help prepare my heart to receive you this Christmas. Amen.
Fr Antony Jukes OFM
The Angelus – Jean-Francois Millet (1814–1875)
“The Angelus”, c. 1857–1859. Oil on canvas, 55.5 x 66 cm. Musée d’Orsay, Paris. Public Domain.
As we begin our approach to Christmas, we ponder the scene of the annunciation to Our Lady. It cannot be separated from the first announcement of the Gospel in the Book of Genesis: “I will put enmity between you and the woman,” says God to the serpent “and between your offspring and hers; he will strike at your head” (Gn 3:15).
The whole history of the Old Testament pointed towards Mary. She was the fulfilment of all those generations of faithful Jews who had clung to God with all their heart. Wave after wave of persecution and disappointment had not deterred their belief that God would be faithful to his promises. It was for that very reason that Elizabeth praised her cousin: “Blessed is she who believed” (Lk 1:45).
Mary’s definitive “yes” rings in the dawn of our salvation, and so the custom (from the Franciscans) is ringing the church bell three times a day to remind us of the reason for our existence. Mary’s Son is our Brother. God has remembered his promise of mercy made to our ancestors (cf. Lk 1:55), announces Mary.
There is an old saying: “No devotion without devotions.” In his ground-breaking apostolic exhortation in 1974, Marialis Cultus: For the Right and Development of Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, Pope Saint Paul VI urged that Christians continue the age-old custom of reciting the Angelus. “The value of contemplation on the mystery of the Incarnation of the Word, of the greeting to the Virgin, and of recourse to her merciful intercession remains unchanged” (Marialis Cultus, 41).
Such a simple devotion each day keeps the event of our salvation even in our minds. And, in doing this, we are simply imitating Mary. “As for Mary, she treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Lk 2:19).
How simply Jean-Francois Millet presents his subject— completed between A.D. 1857 and A.D. 1859. A husband and wife, simple peasants, are reciting the Angelus at the end of the day. The church steeple far on the horizon hints at the ringing of the bell. Alone in the foreground of a huge empty plain, the two peasants take on a monumental quality, despite the small size of the canvas.
The painting had an extraordinary destiny. It had been commissioned by an American art collector who then failed to collect it. Millet then sold it, bringing him only half the amount he received from his other famous piece, The Gleaners.
It was eventually shown the year before Millet’s death in Brussels in A.D. 1874, where it was greatly admired. It triggered an unbelievable rush of patriotic fervour when the Louvre tried to buy it in A.D. 1889, was venerated by Salvador Dali (who included a version of it in one of his paintings), was lacerated by a madman in A.D. 1932, and by the 20th century had become a world-famous icon.
A devotional work of a devotional man? Hardly. Millet was not a church-goer. In A.D. 1865, he said: “The idea for The Angelus came to me because I remembered that my grandmother, hearing the church bell ringing while we were working in the fields, always made us stop work to say the Angelus prayer for the poor departed.” Such is the power of grandparents.
Looking at this painting, it is easy to recall the Book of Genesis again, and God’s condemnation after Adam and Eve’s fall from grace. “Accursed be the soil because of you. With suffering you shall get your food from it every day of your life” (Gn 3:17). But the adoring pose of the couple reminds us that even the most menial of tasks can be sanctified by prayer.
“For me,” wrote St Therese of Lisieux “prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and love, embracing both trial and joy” (Manuscrits autobiographiques, C 25r).
Monsignor Graham Schmitzer
Fr Antony Jukes OFM was born and raised in Chingford, East London. He joined the Franciscan Order of Friars Minor (OFM) in 2002 and was ordained a priest in 2009. Having served in a parish, in a youth retreat centre and at a Franciscan Study Centre, he is now the novice director in the new international novitiate community in Killarney, Ireland.
Monsignor Graham Schmitzer recently retired as the parish priest at Immaculate Conception Parish in Unanderra, NSW. He was ordained in 1969 and has served in many parishes in the Diocese of Wollongong. He was also chancellor and secretary to Bishop William Murray for 13 years. He grew up in Port Macquarie and was educated by the Sisters of St Joseph of Lochinvar. For two years, he worked for the Department of Attorney General and Justice before entering St Columba’s College, Springwood, in 1962. Fr Graham loves travelling and has visited many of the major art galleries in Europe.
With thanks to the Diocese of Wollongong who have supplied the weekly Advent and Christmas 2019 reflections from their publication, The Way – Advent & Christmas Daily Reflections 2019. You can read the reflections as they are published here.