Last Sunday the Baptist invited us to review our relationship with God if we want to prepare for the coming of the Messiah. He called for a change in thinking and acting for the forgiveness of sins (Lk 1:3). Today he focuses on the new relationship that must be established with the neighbor. Love, solidarity, sharing, removal of inequities and abuses of power are the key words of his speech.
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The transformation of mourning into joy—says Baruch—will be visible to all. God will make manifest the glory of Jerusalem renewed “to every creature under heaven” and this will be the sign that nothing is impossible for his love. Hosea—the prophet who first used the image of Israel as the bride of the Lord—alluded to another prodigy.
The dogma of the Immaculate Conception—defined by Pope Pius IX on December 8, 1854—has been formulated with a language linked to the philosophical and theological categories of time, a difficult to understand language for the twenty-first century man and woman. If the dogma wants to have something to say to us today, we must re-read it in the light of biblical revelation.
Today’s Gospel invites everyone “to lift up the head.” There’s no chaos from which God cannot obtain a new and wonderful world. This world is born the instant we allow God to fulfill his Advent in our lives. In the face of evil forces that seem to always get the better, in addition to discouragement there is the danger of escape, the search for palliatives, bogus solutions (vv. 34-35).
Jesus is there, at the top, for all to contemplate, lit by the sun shining in all its glory; he is silent, does not add a word because he has already explained everything. He waits for everyone to rule and make their choice. One can bet on the greatness, the majesty of this world, or follow him, giving up all goods and preferring defeat for love. The success or failure of a life depends on this choice.
Even one who is poor, like the widow in today’s Gospel, is called to give everything. There is no one so poor that they don’t have something to offer, and no one so rich that they don’t need to receive from others. God has lavished gifts on his children, following the example of the Father who is in heaven, they do not retain them for themselves but put them at the disposal of others.
Only after realizing this everlasting and free love, Israel felt the need to respond to it and understood that a God who loves so unconditionally, has the right to control even the heart and also to demand what seems humanly impossible, “If your enemy is hungry, give him something to eat; if thirsty, something to drink” (Pro25:21).
In the past, the Saints have enjoyed a tremendous popularity: the churches were full of their statues and recourse to them was perhaps more than to God. The saints—Mary too—are rightly regarded as sisters and brothers who, with their lives indicate a path to follow Christ and invite us to pray all the time, along with them, to the one Father.
Homer could see, but is depicted blind. He was the symbol of inspired men, of those who, to penetrate deep truths, hidden from ordinary mortals, must close their eyes to the reality of this world. In ancient Greece, even the wise men, soothsayers, the rhapsodes were believed to be blind. They had to take themselves away from the deceptive appearances, ignoring the earthly flashes, to catch the light and the thoughts of the gods.
James and John explicitly claim to be high up to the sky, to be able to command also there. This is the most blatant and most blind of the arrogances, showing where the will to command, inherent in the human heart, can lead.
In Mark, the story bitterly ends: the rich young man chooses to stay with his goods. He dares not trust the proposal of Jesus, not bringing himself to take risks, afraid of losing everything, and sadly, he walks away. He was afflicted because he could not break away from the goods. He does not realize that the human heart is made for infinite love and as long as one is the slave of things he cannot but be disappointed and unhappy.
The love between man and woman, contracted “in the Lord” (1 Cor 7:39), is “indissoluble” (v. 24). This is not a law because the use of precepts is always the declaration of a loss of love, but the discovery of the intimate and profound reality of love which, by its nature, cannot die. It is “a divine flame no flood can extinguish,” is a participation in the love of God, love that is able to withstand any test, immovable as a solid rock that “no river can submerge it” (Song 8:7).
The conflicts, divisions, schisms in the Church are always derived from pride, lust for power and the desire to dominate others. The scandal, that even today, takes away the “small” from the Church, remains the same: the unedifying spectacle of competition and intrigues to fill the top positions and gain privileges.
Who is in love is always “beside himself with joy.” He comes out of himself, forgets himself because to encounter the other proves to be an irresistible impulse. Even the mystical experience of ecstasy, from the Greek word existánai means “to be beside oneself” and caught up in God. “It’s not that we love God but that God first loved us, so we, too, must love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us and his love comes to perfection in us.” (1 Jn 4:9-12).
In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus is always on the move and his disciples walking behind him. From the very start, they were aware of following an extraordinary character. They always paid much attention to what people said about him. Yet, even after months of communion of life with the Master, they failed to grasp his true identity.
The verb “to listen” occurs 1159 times in the Old Testament. It often refers to God who—Isaiah assures—is not deaf (Is 59:1). But unlike people, who often close their ears to the cry of the poor who cries out for help and immediately they pay attention to as soon as they hear praises and compliments.
Jesus puts himself in the spiritual line of the prophets and pious masters of his time. He focuses on the renewal of life and takes a strict position against the religion reduced to mere compliance to a legal code. He says that God is not interested in external purity, formalisms, and solemn liturgies of the temple appearances.
The Eucharist is a proposal. Who decides to receive it says yes to the light and rejects the darkness. This is the choice which qualifies the Christian. “When all the reasons were on one side and Christ on the other, I would choose Christ.”
The early Christians had only one Eucharistic celebration per week. Today we can attend mass every day. If repeated with faith, this sacrament which means union with the Lord of life makes this union more solid and deeper.
The believers’ reflection on the fate of Mary after death continued to grow over the centuries. It led to the belief in her assumption and, on 1 November 1950, to the papal definition: “The Immaculate Conception Mother of God ever Virgin, finished the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.” What does this dogma mean?