Second Sunday of Advent

By the Diocese of Wollongong, 4 December 2022
'Madonna and Child with Saints Nicholas and John the Baptist' by Fabrizio Santafede (C. 1576–1623). Image: Supplied

 

Second Sunday of Advent

Readings: Isaiah 11:1–10; Psalm 71(72):1–2, 7–8, 12–13, 17; Romans 15:4–9; Matthew 3:1–12

4 December 2022

 

“The one who follows me … will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” – Matthew 3:11

The greatest hope of ancient Israel in the time of Jesus was the coming of the Messiah (“anointed one” in Hebrew). The Messiah was to restore the people of Israel as one nation made up of the 12 tribes. The people had lost their former glory which shone so brightly in the kingdoms of David and Solomon. There was the separation of the kingdoms between North and South (c. 931 B.C.), the decimation of the 11 tribes (722 B.C.), and the deportation to Babylon in 587 B.C.

The picture painted for us by Isaiah shows an epoch ushered in by the coming of the Messiah. He would restore a reign that resembles the Garden of Eden (meaning “delight” in Hebrew) before the original sin. We see how his reign would usher in a kingdom governed by the Spirit of God. Incidentally, this is the first place where we first see the gifts of the Spirit listed, although, Sacred Tradition expanded them to seven in keeping with the symbolism of the number of perfection. Furthermore, we see that the reign to be ushered in by the Messiah will not only influence people, but will have an effect over the whole of creation including the animal kingdom: “Calf and lion feed together, with a little boy to lead them” (Is 11:6). This is a spectacular picture of the Garden of Eden before the original sin took place.

Of course, we know that Christ has indeed brought in the kingdom, but we also know that its fullness has yet to be revealed. However, the hope is true and will not deceive: “The whole of creation waits for it” (Rm 8:19).

May the incarnate Son of the Father make us long and work for the fullness of the Kingdom of God. Amen.

Fr Mark De Battista

 

Artwork Spotlight

Madonna and Child with Saints Nicholas and John the Baptist – Fabrizio Santafede (C. 1576–1623)

Madonna and Child with Saints Nicholas and John the Baptist (c. 1580–1620). Cathedral of Lucera, Foggia, Italy. Alinari Archives, Florence / Bridgeman Images.

Even the Protestant Reformation with its banning of Catholic customs and devotion to the saints could not erase the memory of St Nicholas. He just kept reappearing under different guises.

He was born in Asia Minor, and his evident holiness resulted in his consecration as bishop of Myra in modern-day Turkey. The Greek histories of his life agree that he suffered imprisonment for the Faith during the persecution by the Roman Emperor Diocletian, and was probably tortured. He was subsequently released during the rule of Constantine the Great. Tradition tells us that he attended the great ecumenical Council of Nicaea in A.D. 325—the council that confirmed the divinity of Christ and gave us the Creed we recite on Sundays. It is said he even slapped the heretic Bishop Arius in the face. Nicholas’ feast sits well falling in Advent, for he stands with the confessors of the faith affirming the reality of the Incarnation. Incredibly, Arianism had split the Church. The matter was settled for all time when Nicaea was followed by the Council of Ephesus in 431—Mary is truly the Mother of God because her Son is God. The council fathers gave her the title Theotokos, the “Godbearer”. And into the liturgy came the antiphon, “You have destroyed all heresies, O holy Mother of God.”

Nicholas died about the year 350 and was buried in his cathedral. But when Myra was captured by Muslims in the 11th century, Italian merchants took his remains to Bari on the Adriatic coast of Italy. The shrine became a great place of pilgrimage, frequented by the faithful of both the Eastern and Western Church. Nicholas is thus a great advocate for Christian unity. But of great note for us in present times is that when Russia accepted Christianity in the 12th century, Nicholas was chosen as patron of Moscow.

Even in his lifetime, Nicholas was known for his miracles and generosity. The most famous story attributed to him was his kindness to the three daughters of a poor man who could not afford dowries for their marriages. Unmarried, they probably would have been forced into prostitution to support themselves. On three successive nights, the bishop threw a bag of gold through an open window of the house, each time the bag landing in one of the girl’s stockings hung up to dry by the fire (and hence the custom of children hanging a stocking by the fireplace to be filled by Santa.) The event was memorialised in the Middle Ages when pawnbrokers adopted three gold balls as their logo. The symbol was hung outside their shops at a time in Europe when most people were unable to read or write.

Fabrizio Santafede, you will notice, has featured this symbol in his painting, The Madonna and Child with Saints Nicholas and John the Baptist, executed some time between 1580–1620. It is currently located in the Cathedral of Lucera, in Foggia, Italy. Our Lady and the Child are seated on a high thrown (for effect rather than symbolism), John the Baptist pointing to the scroll wrapped around the cross he bears: “Behold the Lamb of God” (Jn 1:29). The cross foretells that the Lamb will be immolated.

Most would not be aware of the origin of St Nicholas being known as the patron of children. There was a butcher, it is said, who lured three children into his shop, murdered them, and placed their remains in a barrel to cure for future sale as “ham”. Nicholas thwarted the butcher’s plan by fervent prayer. The boys emerged from the barrel alive.

The custom still remains in Holland of giving gifts to children on this day (December 6). The Dutch “Sint Klaas” (in German “Klaus”) gradually gave way to Santa Claus. Dutch colonialists took this tradition with them to New Amsterdam (now New York) in the 17th century. In England he became known as Father Christmas.

For us today, then, Nicholas has a twofold message—he points to the reality of the Incarnation, for which he was prepared to suffer persecution, and the need to translate our faith into kindness to the poor and needy.

Monsignor Graham Schmitzer

 

Fr Mark De Battista is the administrator of St Patrick’s Catholic Parish in Port Kembla and Catholic chaplain at the University of Wollongong, as well as the chaplain to Network Ten and Foxtel’s Mass for You at Home. Born in 1970, his family migrated to Australia from Malta in 1978. He was raised in a strong Catholic family and was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Wollongong in 1995. From 2003–2007 he served in university ministry in the USA (Illinois and Colorado). From 2010–2016 he went to Rome for studies in sacred Scripture. He has served in several parishes in the Diocese of Wollongong.

Monsignor Graham Schmitzer is the retired parish priest of 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 this reflection from their publication, Incarnate – Advent & Christmas Daily Reflections 2022Reproduced with permission.

 

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