Today’s readings are a combination of the well-known (the Gospel) and the “what’s-going-on” (Ezekiel). The former is the familiar story of the man, afflicted for 38 years, who encounters Jesus and is heal and has hope restored. The latter is a grand vision of living waters flowing from the Temple into all the land bring abundance and life.
The Ezekiel reading is the epilogue to the “dry bones’ vision the prophet had just proclaimed. In his vision, the prophet finds himself standing in a valley full of dry human bones. Before him, the bones begin to move and assemble into human figures, skeletons rising and standing in the valley. Almost as in modern computer-generated visual effect, the skeletons begin to receive layers of living flesh: tendons, muscles, organs and skin. They then arise, standing upright, alive and vital. These are the Israelites living in exile who are returning to Jerusalem.
Today’s readings are a combination of the well-known (the Gospel) and the “what’s-going-on” (Ezekiel). The former is the familiar story of the man, afflicted for 38 years, who encounters Jesus, is healed and has hope restored. The latter is a grand vision of living waters flowing from the Temple into all the land bring abundance and life.
The Ezekiel reading is the follow-on to the “dry bones’ vision the prophet had just proclaimed. In his vision, the prophet finds himself standing in a valley full of dry human bones. Before him, the bones begin to move and assemble into human figures, skeletons rising and begin to stand. Almost as in modern computer-generated visual effect, the skeletons begin to receive layers of living flesh: tendons, muscles, organs and skin. They then arise, standing upright, alive and vital. These are the Israelites living in exile who are returning to Jerusalem.
Today’s liturgical possibilities include an optional memorial for St. Sebastian who is the patron saint of athletes. Relatively little is known about St. Sebastian, a Christian martyr of the 3rd century. It is believed that he was an officer in the imperial bodyguard and Christian, but not openly so. When his faith was discovered the Diocletian, the Roman emperor, sentenced him to death. Sebastian was tied to a tree, executed by archers and left for dead. However, he had not died. He was found alive and nursed back to health. When at last he was able, he publicly announced his faith, denounced Diocletian for his persecution of Christians, and for this was martyred as he was beaten to death by the emperor’s guard. It is his virtues and gifts of strength, stamina, perseverance, courage and justice in the face of adversity and a superior opponent – and yet he gave his all.
The readings from today’s Mass include optional readings in celebration of the saint. The first reading is from the first letter of St. Peter and includes the following admonition:
Always be ready to give an explanation
to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope,
but do it with gentleness and reverence (1 Pt 3:15)
Are you ready?
The Psalm from today’s Mass asks if we are aware of the foundation of Hope in our lives.
May the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ enlighten the eyes of our hearts,that we may know what is the hope that belongs to our call. (Eph 1:17-18)
Depend, rely, trust, hope – all synonyms, but each one brings its own nuance. But all generally carry the same questions. Do we depend on a what or who? Upon what or whom do we rely? Where do we place our trust? Upon whom do we trust? And the same questions surround “hope.” What do we hope for? Who do we hope in?
Today is a great set of readings. Here on the first day of December in the year of Our Lord 2020, in the time of the coronavirus pandemic, when I read them is preparation for celebrating Mass, it felt like a half-time locker-room speech by the coach, by Knute Rockne. And, I mean that in the best sense.
The “first half” of the pandemic is over, but we have been taking beating to be sure. The coach begins with this chorus-rousing look to the future when we win:
“On that day, a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom. The Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him: a Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, a Spirit of counsel and of strength, a Spirit of knowledge and of fear of the LORD, and his delight shall be the fear of the LORD.” (Isaiah 11:1-3a)
I was inspired to hear it in that vein because of something a good friend wrote in response to one of my posts, Choosing Hope. He wrote a response in the comment section, that I will recast to capture the sense of the half-time exhortation with a spiritual war afoot:
As we enter the Season of Advent, it strikes me that “Hope” and “waiting” are even more a part of our lives in these times. In the dark hours before dawn, I muse about waiting and hope in the season of Advent, I was pondering what is higher on my list – waiting for Christmas or waiting for a coronavirus vaccine, herd immunity and the return to normalcy. If I am honest, it is the latter. It feels like we are living in the time of Noah. We are not just waiting for the flood waters of illness to reside, but we are optimistically waiting now that the vaccines are on the horizon.
But while I am optimistic, am I hopeful? I know I am waiting, but am I hopeful? Are you?
Earlier today I posted “Choosing Hope“. From time to time folks post comments – and I do read them all but have learned long ago there is not time to respond to the comments on a regular basis. Today someone posted a comment that I thought was such an awesome message… “you know what,” I thought to myself, “I am going to make a post of it.” So from my good friend, Jim Rossman:
A liminal 9 months for sure! But, we live in hope. My prediction is that we will limp into a new normal, dragging many deniers with us, exactly on May 1, 2021. (I don’t have to be right — just confident.)
Between now and then, I will use whatever platform is available to me, as we count down the days and weeks to that benchmark, to encourage:
- hopeful preparation during Advent
- celebration of the Lord’s birth (our most inspiring symbol of HOPE)
- embrace the days of Lent as opportunity to open our hearts to God and make room for inspiration on the countless ways we can help our “fellow runners” limp to the finish line
- acceptance of our ultimate HOPE in the Resurrection of the Lord, and
- the final 26 day countdown to May 1 when an outpouring of Gratitude signals another “new beginning” —- where we come together as a Parish, a Church, a community and a nation with determination to recognize the unfair distribution of the suffering of this pandemic and to repair the fabric of our connectedness.
I can’t imagine just hunkering down in despair and taking a beating for 5 more months. Time to begin the countdown and the ground building for a better world post May 1.
[Wow, now that is a clarion call to all people of faith!]
Liminality is one of those “$20 words” having to do with being in being an intermediate state, phase, or condition – in other words, betwixt-and-between. The year 2020 is certainly a liminal year living between the pandemic’s start and the all too uncertain end. And such times are replete with stories. There are stories that affect us all; there are one that are personal – but there are always stories.
With winter’s approach and these hard economic times, there will soon be a story in the paper about a family huddled around the gas kitchen stove on a winter’s eve because the electricity bill is unpaid, and power is cut off. Somewhere there is a family huddled in the ER waiting room; their oldest child in an automobile accident, the surgeons coming to say, “We’re doing all we can.” Maybe it’s a loved one in the covid ICU. These are the moments you wish the world would end, at least the world as you now know it.
Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope but do it with gentleness and reverence.” (1 Peter 3:15-16)
As we start another day, another week, there is a lot going on that will bring us face-to-face with the choice between hope and despair. Despair by far is the easiest choice. This world seems to be coming apart – the headlines say it all: coronavirus positive tests surging in the United States and many places in the world, a citizenry that argues about masks/face covering in the middle of pandemic, small business owners worried about their livelihood while there are reports of government aid going to large
multi-million dollar corporations, uncertainty about school openings, racial injustice protests and cries for change, the rollercoaster of our economy, the canceling of college sports, taking down of monuments – and all of this churned together as fodder for the upcoming election cycle. Continue reading
Kerry Weber, an associate editor at America Magazine, a wife and mom, offered her thoughts on Hope. Her words are from a letter she and her husband wrote to her not-yet-born son on their hopes for his life in the Faith. As do all parents, they wait with expectation to see how this new life unfolds. They wrote:
“We hope that your faith inspires you to be just, loving, humble and merciful. We hope that your faith inspires you to encourage the church to be more just, more loving, more humble and more merciful.” Continue reading