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Thursday, November 30, 2017

What's Your Advent Plan? Mine is to "go and see."

Heinrich Hoffman  1824-1911
Mine is to read St. Francis de Sales' Sermons for Advent and Christmas. The first sermon is about the witness of St. John the Baptist, the herald of Advent. I began the book at adoration this morning. Wow! Talk about food for thought.

Have you ever wondered why St. John sent his disciples to Christ to ask if He was the Messiah? John knew exactly Who Jesus was. They were cousins, after all, and John knew Jesus from the womb. He also must have met him at least occasionally during their growing-up years, particularly when Mary and Jesus journeyed to Jerusalem, "every year" as St. Luke tells, for the Passover.

Wouldn't John and his parents go as well? And isn't it likely that they all traveled together as they returned home after the feast?  We don't know exactly where John's family lived, only that it was in the hill country of Judea not too far from Jerusalem where Zacchariah served in the temple for two weeks of the year. It's likely that for at least part of the journey they visited together. And Luke confirms that they looked for Jesus first among their "relatives and friends." They probably quizzed John since he and Jesus were almost the same age and spiritually of one heart and mind. Remember, after Mary, John was the most privileged human creation. And think of how human cousins enjoy each other's company. Yes, it's likely that John helped look for Jesus among the travelers in the caravan.

Jesus and St. John the Baptist
Children with Shell
Bartolomé Esteban Murillo 
So if John did NOT send his disciples for his own enlightenment, why DID he send them to ask the question? St. Francis gives us three reasons:

  • John wanted "to make [Jesus] known to the whole world." In order that his disciples might do that he wanted them "to see Him whom he had announced to them" so that so that they could preach and make him "known to everyone." Just like the angels sent the shepherds to Bethlehem to see the Messiah for themselves and believe. Seeing is believing as the saying goes and Jesus Himself tells them to describe to John what they see. It's almost as if John and Jesus are sharing a private joke. "Here are your students back again, class completed."
  • "The second reason he sent them was this: he did not want to draw disciples to himself, but only to his Teacher, to whose school he now sends them so that they might be instructed personally by Him....If teachers and those who have spiritual care of others try, by beautiful words, to draw to themselves the disciples whom they teach and the souls for whom they care, they are like pagans, heretics, and other who talk and ramble on, and who take great pains in the pulpit to deliver beautiful, subtle and finely crafted discourses, whose sole purpose is not to lead souls to Jesus Christ, but only to themselves!...True servants of God, on the contrary, preach and teach those whom they guide only so as to lead them to God."
Wow! Is this ever relevant to our own day! How many showman and glad-handing priests have you experienced out there who love to receive honors and gifts and the adulation of the flock? How many "nice guy" priests do you know who refuse to preach the hard truth for fear of offending anyone (except Almighty God)? And how many of us care more about human respect from family, friends, and neighbors than we care about giving God what's due to Him. How many times have you heard, "Hey, what am I supposed to do -- alienate [Take your pick: my son who's marrying outside the Church and expects me to go, my daughter who's in a lesbian relationship and wants my approval, my grandson who wants me to attend a morally evil play in which he has a major part, anyone in my family who regularly blasphemes God's Holy Name]? I have to live with these people! How can I offend them?" And so we choose cowardice and the sin of omission rather than praying and finding the right opportunity to speak the truth in love.

And then there is St. John's third reason:
  • John sent his disciples to Jesus "to detach them from himself. He feared they would be led into the great error of esteeming him more than the Saviour. They were already complaining to St. John in this manner: Teacher, you and we, your disciples, along with the Pharisees, fast. We are poorly clothed and do great penance. But this man, this great prophet who performs so many miracles among us, does not do so. [Matt.9:14; Mk. 2:18]. I hearing this, and in seeing that the love and esteem which his disciples felt for him was beginning to produce in them a feeling of contemp for Jesus Christ, St. John sent them to this Divine Majesty to be instructed and informed in the truth."
This third reason was enlightening to me. I presumed John wanted to detach his disciples since he made it clear that he himself "must decrease" while the Lamb of God "must increase." But it never occurred to me that the disciples of John were falling into the same rash judgment as the Pharisees.

It makes perfect sense though. John preached radical repentance and witnessed extreme austerity wearing animal skins and eating locusts and wild honey (Yuck to the locust part!). That was his role as he "made straight the way of the Lord." Jesus, on the other hand, is known for feasting with sinners and tax collectors. Is it any wonder John's disciples, presumably all zealous in their faith and devoted to John, found it hard to change loyalty to someone being slandered as a glutton and drunkard? [Matt. 11:19]

"Tell John what you hear and see."
Portrait of Christ by Hoffman
It seems obvious from the conversation with John's disciples that Jesus took them along with him for the day (or maybe more) and that they observed the miracles He worked. And then He told them. “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the gospel is preached to the poor." [Luke 7:22] Once again: seeing is believing! 

St. Francis says that when John's disciples asked Jesus, "Who are you?" He didn't try to justify Himself, He basically said, "Come and see for yourself." It's "show and tell" time. And He does this, St. Francis goes on, "to teach us that it is our works and not our words that give testimony to what we are, we who are so full of pride." Ouch!

I only read a dozen pages at adoration but what a lot to think about! I'll be sharing more from the Sermons as I sit at the feet of St. Francis de Sales this Advent. How I look forward to learning from this holy and humble Doctor of the Church. 

I think the watchword for my Advent meditation is HUMILITY -- to learn it and live it. What a challenge! And so, I'm also going to be praying the Litany of Humility every day. Only little, humble people were invited to the first Christmas to see Our Lord and Savior. And I want above all this Christmas season to hear the words, "Come and see."


umblepie said...

Great post, thanks.

Mary Ann Kreitzer said...

Thank you! funny thing -- when I wrote this yesterday I didn't remember today was St. Andrew's feast day. I call my guardian angel Andrew because I want him to take me to Jesus, like Andrew took Peter. When I opened my Magnificat at Mass this morning I had to smile and thank the Lord that He tuned me in to the watchword for the day. "We've found the Messiah," Andrew said to Peter, "Come and see." And we all know the rest of the story. Praise God!

sally kuczynski said...

I was told by good authority that you shouldn't name your guardian angel. If you do name your guardian angel that means you have control over him and you are his master. The opposite is true as your guardian angel is the one that guards you and watches over you, you do not watch over your guardian angel.

Mary Ann Kreitzer said...

Thanks Sally,

But it seems to me just an act of courtesy. I think of it as a nickname. In the Old Testament I know the Jews never used the name of God out of awe, but our guardian angel is a friend and helper. We all know the names of our friends and that doesn't give us control over them. So I find this idea puzzling.

I'd be interested in knowing more about this. Do you have an references I can look up?

Mary Ann Kreitzer said...

I found several references.

The comments on Taylor Marshall's article are interesting. Turns out it's a pretty hot topic. I would never say my angel revealed his name to me. I just thought of him as Andrew because I love St. Andrew who brought Peter to Jesus.

And here's another article. I think I'll do some more research on this.

sally kuczynski said...

The naming of angels is inappropriate for many reasons: God gives the angels their names; some are mentioned in Scripture, but most (by far) are not. To presume to name an angel is to take upon oneself a task that belongs to God. To name an angel can mask a wish to domesticate or control such a mighty beings. And, finally, there can be a danger of superstition about it or occultism. It seems an easy way for demons to manipulate humans, who might really wish to be manipulating angels.

From "Entertaining Angels" Catholic Scripture Study - International


Mary Ann Kreitzer said...

Thanks Sally,

I appreciate the information.

Susan Matthiesen said...

After calling my Guardian Angel "Angel" for several years I got tired of it and thought up a name...or maybe he named himself in my mind which would be him telling me. Since our angels love us and guide us, were assigned to us at birth...(or conception?...does anyone know?) it seems rather odd to always just say, "Angel" which IS a name by the way as well as Angelino.

The great racehorse jockey is ANGEL Cordero, our local parish maintenance man is ANGEL, there was once a Catholic movie about a little boy named ANGELINO. Many Italians and Spanish speaking people name their children ANGELINO for a boy, or ANGELINA for a girl, or ANGEL. And of course there is ANGELINA JOLIE. I mean, do angels like that we name humans after them?

And do we know our closest human friends as merely "Friend" or "Person"? How rude would that be. Here comes Person. Hi Person. This is my mother, Person. It would be like on the TV show, NEWHART. "Hi. I'm Friend and this is my brother Person and my other brother Person."

Most of the time I still call my Guardian Angel GUARDIAN ANGEL but other times I use his name. What's so terrible about that? He absolutely knows who he is whether I say Guardian Angel or his name, but I think it's rather impersonal and rude of me to always address him by his species...Guardian he is a thing. He isn't a THING. He's a person.