For the four Sundays of Advent, Bondings 2.0 has been featuring reflections on the day’s Scripture readings by two New Ways Ministry staff members: Matthew Myers, Associate Director, and Sister Jeannine Gramick, Co-Founder. The liturgical readings for the fourth Sunday of Advent are Isaiah 7: 10-14; Psalm 24:1-6; Romans 1:1-7; Matthew 1:18-24. You can read the texts by clicking here.
During the last seven days of Advent in the Western Christian tradition, the Church prays the “O Antiphons,” which are antiphons for the Magnificat during Vespers. They are called “O Antiphons” because each one begins with the interjection “O.” Each one is a title for Christ and refers to the prophecy of Isaiah about the coming of the Messiah. The precise origin of the “O Antiphons” is unknown, but by the eighth century, they were used in liturgical celebrations in Rome.
The most well-known of the O Antiphons is “O Emmanuel.” The first reading and the Gospel for the Fourth Sunday of Advent both recall this antiphon. Isaiah prophesies that a young woman shall conceive and bear a son, who shall be named “Emmanuel.”
The Gospel reading repeats this prophecy, after stating that Mary was found to be pregnant before she lived with Joseph, to whom she was engaged. Assured by an angel that Mary’s child was conceived through the Holy Spirit, Joseph took Mary into his home. And all this took place, Matthew tells us, to fulfill what the prophet Isaiah had foretold. “Emmanuel” means “God is with us.” Matthew is telling us that, through Jesus, we know that God is with us.
It seems easy for me to believe that God is here with us in the “good times.” When I have no financial worries, when I can relax because all my work is done for the moment, when I am enjoying myself with friends and loved ones, when government officials pass a measure that is respectful of the dignity of LGBT people, I can say, “O God, I know you’re here and it’s good!”
Then there are the “bad times” when my Dr. Jekyll is transformed into Mr. Hyde. I am cranky, critical of Church authorities, judgmental of others’ idiosyncrasies, disappointed in myself and others, wallowing in self-pity. Where are you God when I experience my shadow side?
Pope Francis talked about this shadow side in an extensive interview he gave for the Jesuit journals. Formerly called Cardinal Bergoglio, Pope Francis was asked, “Who is Jorge Mario Bergoglio?” After some silent time, Pope Francis answered, “I am a sinner whom the Lord has looked upon.” He then talked about often visiting in Rome the Church of St. Louis of France to contemplate Caravaggio’s (who, by the way, was gay) painting of “The Calling of St. Matthew” (see above).
In the painting, Jesus’ finger is pointing at Matthew, calling him to be an apostle. “That’s me,” the Pope said. “I feel like Matthew.” Matthew, the tax collector, is clutching his money as if to say, “No, not me! This money is mine. Don’t call me. Let me stay in my darkness with my money.”
It is comforting to know that, like Matthew, Pope Francis is conscious of his sinister and gloomy side. Like Matthew and Pope Francis, I too am being called in my “bad times.” Jesus is there, inviting me with his finger to follow him. Indeed, that is most often when God calls us.
Some of us can faithfully recite the opening questions and answers from the old Baltimore Catechism. Question: “Who made me?” Answer: “God made me.” Question: “Why did God make me?” Answer: “God made me to know him, to love him, to serve him, and to be happy with him in heaven.”
I would like to see a new Baltimore Catechism and everyone should be required to memorize what should be its first question: “Why did Jesus come?” Answer: “Jesus came to show God’s great love for me. Jesus came to tell me that God loves me just the way I am—with wrinkles or crooked teeth or no hair or warts, socially inept, nasty to others and myself, with a diseased heart or a diseased body. Jesus came to let me know that, despite all these flaws, I am very special. Jesus came to say that God is with us in the good times and the bad.
–Sister Jeannine Gramick, SL, New Ways Ministry