Sunday, December 11, 2016

Reflection for the 3rd Week in Advent, Part 1

Monday – A Deed of Hope

In today's Responsorial, we hear an excerpt from the Book of Judith. This little book isn't quite as well known as other books of the Bible, but it tells an amazing story. The Israelites were in some major trouble. The Assyrians, led by the great general Holofernes, lay siege to the town of Bethulia and cut off its water supply. As the people became weaker and weaker, they began to grumble, telling their leaders that they should have just given in and made peace with Assyria and avoided all this suffering. Even now, they continued, they should surrender to the Assyrians and be done with it.

Uzziah, the chief magistrate, convinced the people to wait just a little longer and keep up their hope that God would save them from their peril. If, however, five days passed with no change in their situation, he would hand over the city to their enemies.

Bethulia was home to a beautiful and wealthy widow named Judith. She was disgusted with the people's cowardly behavior and Uzziah's back door promise to give up in five days. She scolded the magistrate, telling him not to put conditions on God, Who could save them whenever He pleased. Yes, the situation was serious, Judith acknowledged, but if they gave up their city, the Assyrians would be in Jerusalem in no time and the Temple would fall. They had to prevent that, and she had a plan.

Judith told Uzziah to allow her and her maid to leave through the city's main gate that evening. Then she withdrew and prayed fervently and hopefully for God to act through her and save the city. When she had finished her prayers, she dressed in fine clothing, packed up a sumptuous meal, and left Bethulia, heading straight over to the enemy camp and requesting to meet with Holofernes.

The beautiful Judith had no trouble at all getting an audience with Holofernes. She played her part perfectly, telling the general that she had come to help him defeat the cowardly Israelites. She kept up the charade for several days, attending banquets and sweet talking Holofernes until he trusted her completely. Then, when Holofernes was dead drunk after a grand banquet, Judith made her move. She beheaded the general, stuffed his head in a bag, calmly left the Assyrian camp, and returned to Bethulia.

The next morning, the Israelites hung Holofernes' head from the city wall, and the leaderless Assyrians broke down in panic and fled. Judith's deed of hope had won the day. Her cleverness and courage saved Israel. But the humble Judith took no credit for her victory. She knew that she was merely God's instrument. She had responded to His call and opened herself, with a hopeful heart, to His guidance and grace. He had done the rest.

Lord, please give us the hope and courage that Judith had. Give us, too, her trusting prayer and her humility. May we be Your instruments. Use us as You will. Amen.

Tuesday – The Remnant

The prophet Zephaniah didn't hesitate to call out the Jews for their rebellion against God. They would suffer the consequences of their sins, he warned, but all would not be lost. God would purify a remnant of His people to serve Him faithfully.

What will this remnant look like? Zephaniah tells us. It will be made up of humble and lowly people, those who know their littleness before God and rely on Him with trusting hearts. This remnant will take refuge in God, running to Him to protect them and hiding in His loving arms. The people of the remnant will do no wrong. They will forsake sinful ways and follow God's law. They will be an honest people, holding firmly to the truth, and they will live in peace, going about their business with a quiet confidence in their God.

God calls us to belong to this remnant, which we now know as the Body of Christ, the Church. This is how we Christians are called to live, as the humble remnant, standing in faith before the world, trusting in God, and doing all things for His glory.

Wednesday – No Offense

“And blessed is the one who takes no offense at Me.” Do you take offense at Jesus?

Your initial reaction is probably, “No! Of course not!” But stop and think a moment. Do you ever get annoyed at God's moral law, especially when it “interferes” with something you want to do? When God says you're supposed to do something (like go to Mass on Sunday or share your material possessions with others), do you agree willingly or do you hesitate and complain? When God sets boundaries, do you stay within them or do you look for ways to escape and follow your own paths? Do Jesus' teachings ever rub you the wrong way, especially when they forcefully contradict the messages of our modern world that you are encouraged to accept in order to fit in?

Now ask yourself again: Do you take offense at Jesus? If you answer in the negative, excellent, but be careful not to fall into pride, for our success is always the result of God's grace. If you must now answer in the positive, pause a moment to repent and ask God to help you go forward willingly in the ways that God has laid out, trusting that He will always help you if you open your heart and your mind to His loving guidance.

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