3rd Sunday of Advent

3rd Sunday of Advent

Fr. Joseph Levine; December 13, 2020
Readings: Is 61:1-2, 10-11; Lk 46-50,53-54; 1 Th 5:16-24; Jn 1:6-8,19-28

On this 3rd Sunday of Advent, “Gaudete Sunday”, the joyful Sunday of Advent, the penitential purple is changed to the rose like the first blush of dawn, the rose of anticipation. The celebration of Christ’s birth is near at hand and, in his birth, Christ reveals to us the life of heaven. The reality in this life that anticipates the life of heaven is the life of grace that we first received in our baptism.

In today’s 2nd reading, St. Paul prayed that me might be preserved blameless, spirit, soul, and body for Lord’s coming. The ‘spirit’ their refers to the life of grace, spirit born of the Spirit of God (cf. Jn 3:6). That spirit of grace lifts up our soul and body to share in God’s life. The Blessed Virgin Mary, Spouse of the Holy Spirit, full of grace, possesses that spirit of grace almost as though it were connatural to her person.

This past week we had two special Marian celebrations, her Immaculate Conception and Our Lady of Guadalupe. The two are intimately connected. Since Our Lady first appeared to St. Juan Diego on December 9th, we could say that her appearance took place in the outpouring of grace that flowed from the celebration of her Immaculate Conception. We can also say that the grace of Mary’s Immaculate Conception is hidden in the joy of this 3rd Sunday of Advent.

Let us take a close look at today’s 1st reading. Jesus himself read the 1st part of this prophecy in the synagogue at Nazareth and declared that it was fulfilled in his own person. (cf. Lk 4:21) In other words, he is the one who possesses the Spirit of the Lord, who proclaims glad tidings (that is the Gospel) to a human race that had been impoverished by sin and the deprivation of God’s grace. He is the one who not only announces but makes the year of favor from the Lord a reality. God’s word is truly creative; what he declares, comes to be. What he produces in us, through his favor, is precisely the reality we call ‘grace’, ‘sanctifying grace’, which makes us to share in his very own life.

When Adam and Eve sinned, they discovered they were naked, stripped of the clothing of God’s grace. Jesus Christ came to restore us the life of grace and lead us through grace to the life of heaven.

This leads us to the 2nd part of the prophecy, which is used in the entrance antiphon for the Mass of the Immaculate Conception. The restoration of grace through Christ clothes us anew with the robe of salvation, the mantle of justice. In her Immaculate Conception, Mary was the first and most perfectly redeemed of all, clothed with the most beautiful robe of salvation, full of grace from the beginning.

The prophet speaks of this garment of grace also as a jewel, the diadem of the bridegroom and the jewels of the bride. The Bridegroom is Jesus Christ, who in his sacred humanity, possesses the fulness of grace, as in a fountain, to pour forth upon humanity. (cf. Jn 1:14,15). The Blessed Virgin Mary represents the Bride, who possesses the fulness of grace, as in a receptacle, a treasure to be bestowed upon her children.

More than any other creature she is the one who rejoices heartily in the Lord and finds in God the joy of her soul. Her Immaculate Heart is revealed in the words of her canticle, when Elizabeth proclaimed her blessed among women: My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my savior, because he has looked on the lowliness of his handmaid. (Lk 1:46-48)

The Blessed Virgin Mary is characterized by the fulness of grace, that is her identity, her name even; she is truly the Immaculate Conception.

For us, so long as we are in this world, grace remains an uncertain inheritance. If we have it, it remains threatened by sin and the snares of the devil. The battle rages within our soul until we breath our last. If we have grace, we are ever in danger of losing it.

There is a passage in the book of Nehemiah that speaks well to our situation: when Nehemiah was overseeing the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem, the walls that would protect the temple of God, the dwelling place of God in the midst of the city, the people were threatened by enemies who wished to hinder their work. As a result, the workers had to labor, each with one hand on his work and the other hand on his sword. (cf. Neh 4:17)

On the 1st Sunday of Advent, I spoke about the need to be watchful because of the great evil that is at work in the world today and which appears to be crystalizing under the direction of the “Great Reset”, directed by the World Economic Forum. Nevertheless, we must not let the threat from without distract us from the essential work within, the construction in our heart of the city of Jerusalem.

St. Paul wrote: You are God’s field, God’s building. (1 Cor 3:9) He captures therein two basic images for the life of grace; a living growing reality, like an offshoot of the tree of life; and a building, like a temple, within a city that protects it; but it is like a building that is still under construction.

Following upon the building image, which concerns us today, he wrote: You are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are built into it for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit. (Eph 2:19-22)

The same reality that is found in the Church is found uniquely in the Virgin Mary, and individually in the members of the Church living in grace.

Blessed Isaac of Stella puts it beautifully, starting with Christ. “The whole Christ and the unique Christ – the body and the head – are one: one because born of the same God in heaven, and of the same mother on earth. They are many sons, yet one son. Head and members are one son, yet many sons.” (cf. Liturgy of the Hours, Vol I, pg. 251-252)

Then he moves to Mary and the Church: “In the same way, Mary and the Church are one mother, yet more than one mother; one virgin, yet more than one Virgin.” (Ibid. pg. 252)

Then he moves to each faithful soul: “In a way, every faithful soul is also believed to be a bride of God’s Word, a mother of Christ, his daughter and sister, at once virginal and fruitful.” (Ibid.)

He sums it up writing: “This is why Scripture says: I will dwell in the inheritance of the Lord. The Lord’s inheritance is, in a general sense, the Church; in a special sense, Mary; in an individual sense, the faithful soul. Christ dwelt for nine months in the tabernacle of Mary’s womb. He dwells until the end of the ages in the tabernacle of the Church’s faith. He will dwell forever in the knowledge and love of each faithful soul.” (Ibid.) The first among all faithful souls is the ever-faithful Virgin.

If you are familiar with the concept of a fractal image, in which the same pattern repeats over and over on different scales, grace is something like a fractal reality, repeated on different scales.

For ourselves, as the dwelling place of God, as the temple, the building, we must collaborate in the construction, while protecting it from attack.

We collaborate in the construction not only by acts of faith, hope, and charity, the theological virtues, not only by a life of prayer, but also by the practice of all the virtues, which revolve around the cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance.

Paying heed to today’s 2nd reading, we must pray without ceasing, give thanks in all things, exercise prudence by testing everything, practice justice and fortitude by holding fast to what is good, while also exercising temperance by refraining from what is evil.

Let us return now to consider Mary Immaculate and how she can help us. God set enmity between her and the serpent (cf. Gen 3:15), as a result, she never had the interior struggle with sin that we each must undergo. We must labor to build, while defending ourselves from attack at the same time. In Mary, however, was fulfilled the words to the prophet Zechariah: Jerusalem shall be inhabited as villages without walls … for I will be to her a wall of fire about, says the Lord, and I will be the glory within her. (Zech 2:4,5) There is room for us there.

Our most secure defense against the attack of the diabolic enemy is to belong to Mary, to be protected beneath the mantle of her grace. To her it has been given to crush the head of the wicked serpent. (cf. Gen 3:15)

The best way to attain this protection is the path of consecration to Mary. We give ourselves completely to Mary, so as to belong more completely to Jesus, so as to belong more completely to God.

The path of consecration to Mary was in a special way inaugurated in the 17th century by St. Louis Marie de Montfort. It was developed in the 20th century by St. Maximillian Kolbe, St. Teresa of Calcutta, and St. John Paul II. In our own time, Fr. Michael Gaitley, has effectively promoted this path of consecration in his very accessible book, “33 Days to Morning Glory”.

To the consecration we can add enrollment in the brown scapular, which means taking part in the spiritual goods of the Carmelite Order, dedicated to our Lady, committing oneself to pray the rosary daily, and wearing the scapular as the clothing of Mary, a sign of her protection.

Essentially the consecration consists of a renewal of one’s baptismal vows, in the hands of Mary. We entrust ourselves completely to her maternal care, body and soul, all our goods, interior and exterior, and even the value of all our good actions, that she may do with us and all that we have whatever she pleases. Clearly, giving to her our body and soul and all our goods, we may still use them, but now we must use the life that God has given us, as belonging to Mary, as her special property. We must live as her children, keeping the commandments of God and bearing witness to Jesus. (cf. Rev 12:17) In turn, she gives herself to us. In turn, she opens for us the treasure house of God’s grace and blessing. In turn, she takes care of us and protects us as belonging to herself. What Mary protects will not be lost.

Then we will come to know, as never before, the one whose coming John the Baptist was sent to announce, Jesus Christ. Then we shall rejoice in the Lord as never before. The we shall be preserved blameless spirit, soul, and body for his coming.

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Fr. Joseph Levine graduated from Thomas Aquinas College and after a long journey was ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Baker, Oregon. He currently serves as pastor of St. Peter Catholic Church in The Dalles on the Columbia River.