Sunday, December 17, 2017

Practicing Courage

John the Baptist Challenging King Herod
This third Sunday in Advent is called Gaudete Sunday. “Gaudete” is a Latin word meaning “rejoice.” We are joyful because Jesus Christ is about to come at Christmas. Christ is God's unique gift to us, among the many gifts God bestows upon us to enjoy. This indeed is a season to count our blessings.

We have so much to be thankful for.  Read the poem titled "Lord, forgive me when I whine" and I guarantee you'll never whine again. Count our blessings.

During this Advent season we've been reflecting on the three-fold coming of Jesus.The Word made flesh, the Christ-child came to us centuries ago in Bethlehem; the living Christ comes to us now sacramentally in Mass; and Christ will come again gloriously at the end-time to transform this universe into a "new heaven and a new earth."

The word of God takes us back to the 6th century before Jesus, as the Hebrews resettle in their devastated homeland. Yet the prophet proclaims good news. The prophet might ask us: do we bring good news to people?

St. Paul, in his letter to the Christian community urges us to rejoice always, pray continuously, and give thanks to God. Count our blessings, Paul says.

In the Gospel, John the Baptizer is the “voice” in the wilderness--the “witness” who points to Jesus. John immersed people in the waters of the Jordan River as a sign of cleansing from their old ways, so that they could be faithful to the demands of God’s covenant.

John lived a simple, ascetic life-style. His message was straightforward. He proclaimed what the prophet Micah begged the Hebrews to do centuries before: do what is right, love goodness, walk humbly with God. “Repent,” John cried out; “orient your life to God’s covenant.”

John had the courage to speak truth to power, and paid for it with his life.  He wasn't afraid to do the right thing. John was a profile in courage.

It's interesting that a common phrase in the Old Testament is “Be not afraid.” A common phrase in the New Testament is “Do not be afraid.” Between the two testaments or covenants, the phrases appear more than one thousand times. Do you think God is trying to get a message across?

Courage is not the absence of fear but the acquired ability to move beyond fear. Look through the pages of history, e.g. in sacred scriptures. So much can be accomplished in one moment of courage. So much can be lost in one moment of fear. 

Courage is an acquired virtue. You learn to ride a bicycle, to play a sport, or a musical instrument, by practicing. You acquire courage by practicing courage. Virtues are like muscles—when you exercise them, they become stronger.

Courage animates us to choose what is right in decisions that affect work, career, family and social life. In the struggles of life, we are not alone, for God has given us the Spirit of courage.

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