Reading Advent in Lent

It is a bit embarrassing to admit, but I am way behind in my daily readings.  As I have mentioned in the past, I get an email from Daily Gospel Online that contains the daily mass readings and a short reflection tied to them.  A number of times I have posted  these reflections here.  The problem, however, is that it is easy for me to get behind.   Previously, I have fallen a few days, a week, or even two weeks behind.  In those cases, by an act of will I was able to get caught up, as it were binging on the gospel.  Over the past 6-8 months, however, I managed to fall disastrously far behind:  about three months.  Periodically I would make an attempt to get caught up, but invariably would fall even further behind.  (One can almost read this as a parable about the futility of attempting to save ourselves by our own works.)

So this Lent I decided to take the double track of reading the daily readings as they come, and also go back and read one set from my backlog.  (Please pray that I will be able to maintain this simple discipline in the weeks ahead.)  And, by chance, things have lined up so that today, on the first Sunday of Lent, I am also going back and doing the readings from the first Sunday of Advent.  Both are penitential seasons, but with different emphases as they lead to two very different mysteries of our faith:  the Incarnation of God and the death and resurrection of Jesus.  But they are deeply intertwined:  the joy of Christmas leads inexorably to both the sorrow of Good Friday and the triumph of Easter.   So while this is not a spiritual exercise I would have thought of, providence has conspired to have me reflect on Advent and Lent at the same time.

Today, the first reading from the first Sunday of Advent is strongly penitential in tone and feels equally appropriate for Lent.  It is from the prophet Isaiah, and consists of both a call to repentance and strongly worded confession of guilt.

You, LORD, are our father,  our redeemer you are named forever. Why do you let us wander, O LORD, from your ways, and harden our hearts so that we fear you not? Return for the sake of your servants, the tribes of your heritage.  Too long have we been like those you do not rule, who do not bear your name. Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, with the mountains quaking before you,  While you wrought awesome deeds we could not hope for,  such as they had not heard of from of old. No ear has ever heard, no eye ever seen, any God but you doing such deeds for those who wait for him.  Would that you might meet us doing right, that we were mindful of you in our ways! Behold, you are angry, and we are sinful;  all of us have become like unclean men, all our good deeds are like polluted rags; We have all withered like leaves, and our guilt carries us away like the wind.  There is none who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to cling to you; For you have hidden your face from us and have delivered us up to our guilt.  Yet, O LORD, you are our father; we are the clay and you the potter: we are all the work of your hands.  (Isaiah 63:16b-17.19b.64:2b-7)

This plea in the first part of the reading “you, Lord, are our father, our redeemer” is how we should respond to today’s Gospel:

Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God:”This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:15)

The confession of guilt is full and perhaps overwhelming: “all of us have become like unclean men, all our good deeds are like polluted rags“.   We are crushed by our sins and and would be beyond hope, were it not for the promise of baptism recalled in today’s second reading:

[The flood] prefigured baptism, which saves you now. It is not a removal of dirt from the body but an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 3:21).

And it is through the grace of our baptism that we can pray with the prophet:

Yet, O LORD, you are our father; we are the clay and you the potter: we are all the work of your hands. 

Our hope in this prayer is that when our Lord comes again in glory to judge the living and the dead, “you might meet us doing right, that we were mindful of you in our ways!” 

Today, let us open up our lives  so that we might be shaped by the Lord’s hands into vessels of his mercy.  As the Father has shown mercy to us by converting the waters of the flood into the waters of baptism, let us show mercy to others.  Let us become, as Pope Francis  put it in his Lenten message, “islands of mercy in the midst of the sea of indifference.”  We must allow ourselves to be conformed to the message of Christ in every part of our lives and not simply in our religious practice.  Lent is not the time to simply add a few more devotions while neglecting the weightier works of justice and mercy (cf. Mt 23:23).  Pope Francis spoke to this divide in his homily on Friday:

So many men and women of faith, have faith but then divide the tablets of the law. ‘Yes, I do this’ – ‘But do you practice charity?’ – Yes of course, I always send a cheque to the Church’ – ‘Ok, that’s good. But at your home, within your own Church, are you generous and are you fair with those  who are your dependents  – be they your children, your grandparents, your employees?’  You cannot make offerings to the Church on the shoulders of the injustice that you practice towards your dependents.  This is a very serious sin: using God as a cover for injustice.

May the Spirit of the Lord be upon us, guide us through the desert of Lent and lead us to the joy of Easter with hearts and minds renewed!  May we find in the humility of the Incarnation a model for our own lives today and every day.

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  • stevedequintal

    All the best with this task, I can completely relate!

  • Ronald King

    David, I love your openness! This Easter will be my ten year anniversary of returning to our Faith after a 40 years absence and making my 40 year Confession. It was God’s Love which was exhibited through many miraculous interactions with people brought into my life and work who would not have been here without such Love. I was on fire when I returned and reading Scripture was something I looked forward to every morning so much that I began awakening at 3AM in order to begin reading. I would run and pray the Rosary after that and the insights I experienced would give me a joy and passion which I wanted to share with others who I thought had similar experiences.
    Now it is a struggle to read God’s word and I now realize that God’s word is about being passionately connected in Love with all of Creation and with every encounter with that Creation. For me, the lack of desire to read Scripture is a symptom of the void which exists within me which I believe is in each of us and must be brought out into the open. This void is the result of being born into a human history of isolation from love and the conscious or unconscious realization that I/We are nothing without that love. This emptiness will influence us to fill ourselves with anything which will give us a sense of fulfillment but it is never enough and we are left with that emptiness again and again. We attempt to accumulate more and more but I think the idea is to let go more and more through being open and honest with self and others.
    You are an excellent example of this process.
    God Bless You!

  • Jack Hartjes

    I can see another parallel between Lent and Advent. In Lent we look forward to the resurrection of Jesus. In Advent we look forward to Jesus’ coming again and the general resurrection.

  • Tausign

    I remember Advent often being referred to as ‘little Lent’. Also, St. Francis was someone who was particularly devoted to a third Lenten season called ‘St. Michael’s Lent’ which ran the 40 days from the Feast of Our Lady’s Assumption until the Feast of St. Michael the Archangel. All of the Lenten periods were marked by general penitential practices but they were also characterized by a period of slowing down (Lent = slow) reflection, repentance and renewal. St. Michael’s lent has all but disappeared and the ‘Little Lent of Advent’ is almost completely overwhelmed by a consumer culture that steamrolls Christmas.

    There’s another element that’s lost in all of this…which is the communitarian aspect of penitential seasons (all of the Lents). It’s not only the personal penance but the social penance and awareness of a common journey as a people dedicated to God that counts. It’s not only me, but me along with the body of Christ who needs to repent.

    In this respect the timing of all of this has some importance; the synchronization of our penance. So as jubilees are important in the time they occur, and liturgical hours are important in the hours they are said, so to does falling into the liturgical (in this case penitential) season matter. Enjoy Lent…slowly.

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