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This Sunday's Programme

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1st Sunday Advent B

Sunday 3rd December 2023

The Gospel Paraphrased

There are many fine translations of the Gospels readily available. This paraphrase is not meant to replace them. Rather the intention here is to offer a more contemporary rendering so that you can imaginatively translate the Gospel in your own situation.

This Sunday's Gospel Paraphrased

Mk 13: 33-37
Jesus said to the disciples: “Watch, be alert, for you do not know when the time will be. It is like a man who has travelled out of his home region and has left the running of his business to his workers, each with their own particular job to do. The supervisor is to be especially alert with the owner away. So you too must be like them: alert, awake, waiting for the return of the owner, not knowing what time to expect him, evening, midnight, dawn, morning. When he comes unexpectedly, he mustn’t find you slacking off. Look, I am telling you, I am telling each and every one of you, be alert and waiting.

Psalm

The Psalms are the ancient prayers of the Jewish people, here paraphrased into contemporary language.

This Sunday's Psalm

Ps 79: 2-3, 15-16, 18-19

O shepherd of Israel, listen!
Radiant among the heavenly hosts,
come and lead your servant Joseph
Rouse up your strength and be our salvation!

We plead with you Lord God, return to us.
Look upon us from heaven and see.
Come visit this vine,
this sprig planted by your own hand.

Give strength and resolve to the one you have chosen to lead us,
Then we will not turn away from you again.
Our hearts will revive as we call on your name.

 

Prayers

Words cannot contain our desire for God but they help direct our minds and hearts towards God's love and express our needs.

This Sunday's Prayer

Loving God, your love has crafted our lives in deep, mysterious and unique ways. From the beginning to the end of our days your grace weaves its way through, around and within all our actions, even when we turn from you. Open our hearts and minds to your presence and give us your Spirit that we may dance in the love of Jesus. We ask this in his name confident that you will hear us.

The Commentaries Summarised

As a Church we are in a web of wisdom that comes to us both from tradition and contemporary writers. This section offers a summary of some commentaries on the Gospel. Also below is a list of the books and articles that have been consulted in compiling this Sunday's "Pray As You Can" and which could be used for further reading.

This Sunday's Commentary

With this Sunday we begin Liturgical Year B which uses the Gospel of Mark as its primary source. As with the reading of Matthew and of Luke in Years A and C, we begin not at the beginning of the Gospel itself but rather in the middle of the Gospel when the story turns from Jesus’ ministry to the Passion narratives. Each of the Gospels contains, at this point, an apocalyptic section. Apocalyptic writings aim at making sense of the present time in the light of the final and future ending of humanity. So, as we begin to recall the coming of Jesus Christ in our flesh, we are called to situate it first in light of the final end of history: the coming of Jesus Christ as Lord over all when there will be a judgement of our lives.

The image Jesus uses is of a Master going away and returning unexpectedly. Judgement will be made upon our lives not on what presentation we may be able to drum up at the last minute but rather on what we do day by day when no-one is around. In truth, it will be made on who we are to ourselves – not the front that we may put up for the world. That is why Jesus stresses that we keep his coming in mind.

A number of vigorous verbs are repeated throughout this small section of text: ‘be on guard’,’ awake’, ‘be alert’, ‘be watchful’. It is so easy to get caught up in our mundane existence and forget where our lives are truly heading. We do not drift into the Kingdom of God. The verbs that Jesus uses here highlight the need to be attentive to his presence even in the most hidden moments of our lives.

 

Exposition

Christian conversion is promoted by conversation. This section is a response to and a development on the knowledge gained from the commentary section.

This Sunday's Exposition

While this Gospel tells us to be alert to the final coming of Jesus, it actually directs us back into the midst of the ordinary life to which we have been called. The ‘religious’ character of our lives is determined not by what practices we do but rather by what attentiveness we bring our life’s work. For most of us this is not something outstanding or heroic. Being a parent, earning one’s living honestly, being a good citizen and member of society, caring for family are paths to holiness. Some of us may feel that our lives don’t add up to much but it worthwhile to remember the words of John Henry Newman

God has created me to do Him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission. I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons. He has not created me for naught. I shall do good; I shall do His work… Therefore, I will trust Him, whatever I am.

It takes great daily courage to take these words to heart but when we do our lives, our often very humble lives, attain a meaning and depth that cannot come from human sources. When we trust the plan that God has for our lives, the grace of the Spirit opens our eyes to infinite vistas in the confined spaces of our daily life.

Reflection

Reflection is an essential element of our growth in Christ. As we reflect over what we have learnt and ponder it in our hearts, we come to recognise the presence of God in our lives.

This Sunday's Reflection

Steve Jobs, soon before he died, said that one of the determining practices of his life was to live each day as if it were the last.   That practice has had a significant place in Christian spirituality.  St Benedict exhorted his followers ‘to keep death daily before one’s eyes.’  This was not to be an exercise in morbidity but rather a liberation from entanglement in all the lesser passions of life and it has the ability to transform the quality of our lives.   A story was told of St Francis de Sales.  Someone was surprised to find this holy bishop playing cards and asked him: ‘What would you do if you knew that you were to die and face God’s judgement in 15 minutes.” “I’d tell them to hurry up and deal the next round,” he replied.  Living with God’s presence before him, he was able to enter fully into each moment.

Life is not meant to be a filling in of time before we shuffle off this mortal coil.   If it is that, we will alternate between boredom and distraction.  Given the quality and type of much that passes for ‘entertainment’ nowadays, we could well be forgiven for thinking that our society lives in fear of a death it cannot face.  That death will surely come – but it need not be dreaded.  It can be the companion of our lives teaching us to enter fully into all the partial moments of living so that we can be ready to enter fully into the great moment of God’s embrace.

Visual Meditation

Looking at art works or movies is a great way to open ourselves to the meaning of the Gospels. Seeing can bypass our preconceived notions, giving us new vistas of enlightenment. With painting or sculpture one needs to sit quietly and absorb the dynamics of the piece. The drama of movies more easily engages us and offers a way to conversation about the Gospel with other members of your family.

This Sunday's Visual Meditation

There are many representations of the Last Coming of Jesus but unfortunately no artist seems to depicted the coming of the Master to the servants going about their ordinary work.
– This woodcut after the style of Hans Leonhard Schaufelein shows Jesus teaching his disciples about the Last Coming.
– Jean-Louis Bezard The Seven Acts of Mercy

Mulling Meditation

The purpose of mulling meditations is to offer a few ideas that one can mull about while doing other occupations. There are many things we do in our day that do not require our full attention - some things which are largely done on automatic pilot - like driving a car or peeling the potatoes. While we give these our attention, part of our mind is still at work mulling on other things and unless it is given something positive to feed on, we easily feed on negative thoughts. Personally I find mulling time the most likely time for God to get through to me. Because I am not so conscious of myself, God gets through the cracks and opens my heart to look at life differently.
Two practical times for mulling can be when exercising and when driving. Some small preparations for integrating such prayer into these exercises can be helpful.

Exercising
As you do your preparatory stretches, pray the line of the Psalm "I praise you God for I am wonderfully made!"
Similarly when doing your concluding stretches use the prayer of St Clare "Praised be you, my God, for creating me!"

Driving
Have some music that you find helps you turn you mind and heart to God and play that for the first 10 minutes or so of your trip.

This Sunday's Mulling Meditation

In this Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus calls on us to be alert to his coming, his final coming.  This has been expressed in Christian spirituality as keeping death before our eyes.  Through this coming week, try to live each day as though it was your last.  Watch and notice what difference this makes in how you interact with people and do your work.  Mull on the effect it has upon you.

Mirror Meditation

In the Letter of James, we are told that the Scriptures are like a mirror in which we can see ourselves. In this type of meditation we take a piece of Scripture, hold it before us and consider what echoes within our heart. These echoes help us to see who we are before God and how we are loved. What usually echoes in us are situations that we are dealing with in our lives. When something strikes us, we do not actively try to solve the situation or work it through. Rather we sit holding it in God's love. The point of such a meditation is to make space within the situation for God's love to be. In 'sitting with' such a situation, painful or sad, we come to recognise the love of God that is at work on our lives. The suggestions for Mirror reflections can also be used for Exercise reflections but wouldn't be advised for Driving Prayer as often some degree of emotion or distraction might rise in such prayer.

This Sunday's Mirror Meditation

Rest in the love of your God.

When you are at rest in that love, consider the life that you lead. Can you see and accept it as a sacred gift from God, a divine calling given to you and to no-one else? Sit for some time marvelling at the preciousness of the life that has been given to you and recall some of the people and events that have brought you to this time. Allow a sense of gratitude and wonder to flow through you at the unique gift of life God has given you.

Rest in the love of your God.