The word of God came to John…in the wilderness. Luke 3:2
9 December 2018, 2nd Sunday of Advent
Baruch 5:1–9, Psalm 125(126), Philippians 1:4–6,8–11, Luke 3:1–6
The opening lines of this Gospel do not just set the time and place, they show a comparison. Caesar, Pilate, Herod, Phillip, Annas and Caiaphas are either kings, politicians or priests—all important, successful people. Yet, the word of God comes to who? Someone who is really struggling—John in the wilderness.
And, his message? Well, to those who were also struggling in the wilderness, the message was: Prepare. Every obstacle in front of you—mountains, valleys and rough roads—will be removed and you will find God.
We all go through tough times and we find ourselves struggling. At one time or another, we all have to live a wilderness experience. For some, those times are longer and more intense than others. But, we need to remember that for all the importance and success that some may have—the apparent easy life of some—“There is none greater” (Matthew 11:11) in the Lord’s eyes than the person who hears the word of God while struggling in the wilderness.
Jesus, let me hear your voice while I’m in my own struggles and wilderness, and remove every obstacle on my way to finding you. Amen.
Fr Stephen Varney
The subject of this painting may seem extraordinary —St John the Baptist and St Jerome. It hangs in the church of Santo Stefano in Venice and was painted by Giovanni Agostino da Lodi about A.D. 1500. Lodi came from Lombardy, Italy, and while in Milan, may well have seen the work of Leonardo da Vinci.
Lodi obviously saw St John the Baptist and St Jerome as having something in common, and I can only guess at his thinking—both witness to Christ, but in different circumstances and in different centuries. But, isn’t that the Christian vocation? Christ is living. I must witness to him in my own environment and in my own timeframe. John and Jerome are separated by almost 400 years, but both point us to the Saviour.
John is called from his mother’s womb to be a prophet. At the closeness of the pregnant Mary on the occasion of the Visitation, John leaped in his mother’s womb, as David had leaped before the Ark of the Covenant. It cannot be overstated—an unborn child is the first to recognise the Messiah. And in his later preaching, John prepares the Jewish people to recognise the One who is already in their midst. He is always in our midst, often unrecognised. For four weeks every year, the Church listens to the voice of the Baptist. Now that Christ has come, John’s work is not finished. He calls for a preparation we all must continually make. Every day at Mass, the Church uses the Baptist’s words as she presents to us the Eucharistic Christ: “Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world.” In art, it is not unusual for John to hold a staff in the shape of a cross, pointing to his own passion and that of his cousin.
Jerome was born about A.D. 341 and baptised in his early 20’s. After much study, he became a monk, visited Palestine, and learned Hebrew in order to study Scripture in its original language. He was already proficient in Greek. He became secretary to Pope St Damascus who commissioned him to undertake the monumental task of translating the entire Bible into Latin—the version we would come to know as the Vulgate (i.e. “the commonly used one”)—having become the spoken language of the Roman people. St Damascus then changed the liturgy of the Mass from the previous, Greek, to Latin. He retained the Kyrie as a reminder of this. There was some opposition to all this at the time. Sound familiar?
Jerome did his translating work in Bethlehem. For this reason, he is buried in the basilica of St Mary Major in Rome, close to the supposed relics of the Crib. Jerome is pictured in art in several poses. Lodi has chosen the skull which Jerome is said to have kept before him to remind him of his mortality. He said of himself that he had all the problems of the average man and he went on extended fasts and vigils to tame his passions. It is a reminder to us that saints are not saints because they were perfect. They are saints because they kept getting up after they fell. I often tell my penitents in the confessional to keep getting up, because each time you get up, you’re a step closer to the goal (which is Christ), and by the time of your death, if you’ve got up once more than you’ve fallen, you’ve made it! We are only condemned if we stay down.
So, with this great experience behind him, Jerome is famous for his declaration: “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” We would do well this Advent to follow Jerome’s guidance and determine that, henceforth, the Sacred Scriptures will play a more prominent role in our lives.
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.