GOSPEL, FIRST READING & PSALM TRANSCRIPT (Subscribe or Login for Full Transcript):
Alright, with all that in mind then there is a passage from St. Ambrose. He lived in the Fourth Century. He was St. Augustine's mentor and he has a wonderful commentary on the Book of Luke, on the Gospel of Luke. It’s actually the oldest commentary on Luke that we possess. There were a series of homilies given by Origen of Alexandria in the Third Century on Luke but the earliest complete commentary is by St. Ambrose of Milan, he was a doctor of the church. It’s really hard to get a copy of this in translation, but of course I have one, and so I want to read to you from St. Ambrose's commentary on John the Baptist’s words. He says this:
The Baptist gave a fitting response to each kind of people. To the tax collectors he said that they should not exact payment beyond what was appointed. To the soldiers, that they should not make false accusations or rob anyone, by which he meant that their pay was fixed, so that wanting to have more, they could not resort to plunder. These and other precepts are appropriate for all occupations, and the practice of compassion is shared. Thus it is a common precept that the basic necessities of life must be provided for all occupations, all ages, and all people. Neither the tax collector nor the soldier is exempted, neither the farmer nor the townsman, neither the rich man nor the pauper—all are commanded in common to give to the one who does not have. Compassion is the fullness of the virtues and therefore the form of the perfect virtue is placed before all.
And that’s St. Ambrose’s On the Gospel of Luke, book 2, paragraph 77. Now why do I bring that passage up? I think it's important because of two reasons. First, no- tice what Ambrose is saying. No matter who you are, no matter what state in life you have, and no matter what occupation you engage in, you are called to justice, you’re called to virtue, and you’re called to compassion. It's easy to imagine a situation where someone who might be a follower of Christ might try to make excuses for themselves. You know, I can't help but engage in extortion, I’m part of this corrupt system of tax collectors; or I’m a soldier and so, you know, plunder is just part of what we do, this is just part of the habit of warfare. No, no. Ambrose is really clear here that every Christian, whatever state they’re in, none of us are exempted from obeying the commandments and from practicing charity and alms- giving. I think it’s really important to put that before us now, because during the season of Advent it can be easy to think about preparing for Christmas by setting up the Christmas lights, or going to Christmas parties, or, you know, going to mass or whatnot, but we don't want to stop just at that, we also have to prepare ourselves morally and ethically.
One of the great Western Christian traditions that goes back to ancient times is the practice of almsgiving during the season of Advent and during the season of Christmas, finding those who are poor, who are less fortunate than you, and engaging in corporal works of mercy and in acts of charity during the Advent season is a great way to do penance, not through fasting but through almsgiving. Giving away what we have, whether it be food or clothing to the homeless, to the orphans, to widows, to the elderly, to shut ins, whatever way, shape, or form you might be able to engage in that charity, to do that especially during the Advent season. Also, if you're in a business situation or you’re in an occupation in which you might be surrounded by people who engage in immoral activity, to take a look at that and ask yourself, can I engage in this occupation justly, right, in keeping the commandments? Very important. There is no separation for John the Baptist or St. Ambrose or Catholics today between our Christian life and our business life. Our business life has to be governed by the same ethical ideals and by the same moral principles that our religious life and our life of worship should be, and the Advent season is a great time to remember that, because John the Baptist is basically saying to the people, if you don't do that you're going to end up, instead of ending up in the granary of the Messiah, you’re going to end up in the chaff and burning like an unquenchable fire.
So there's always an edge to the good news, right. It’s good news for those who repent, turn away, and begin to live the life of charity that Christ calls us to. So in this Advent season I just would call to your attention and to mine, all of us, to re- member that the corporal works of mercy, especially feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and the elderly, and giving to the poor, these are not optionals, these are essentials for preparing our hearts for the coming Messiah.
SECOND READING TRANSCRIPT (Subscribe or Login for Full Transcript):
Paul, if you go back to Philippians, is speaking to the Philippians about not having anxiety, and he goes a little further than Jesus. He doesn’t just tell them not to have any, he also gives them a very important practice — a very important piece of advice on how to overcome anxiety. And this is where this passage is particularly powerful for me personally. I just think it’s really, very, very inspired and inspiring. So when Paul says in verse 6 of Philippians, “have no anxiety about anything”, he doesn’t just give them a negative command. He also gives them a positive, something to do:
...in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
So according to Paul, what is the antidote to anxiety? It’s in every situation, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, to let your requests be made known to God. So do you need food? Do you need clothing? Do you need shelter? Absolutely. Pray to God about it. Supplicate God and ask Him for it. But even in the midst of deprivation, always make prayer with thanksgiving. In other words, the antidote to anxiety is gratitude and prayer. That’s two antidotes, but they go together — a grateful prayer.
I bring that up because it’s very fascinating to note that the word thanksgiving here is eucharistia
. So Eucharistic prayer is the answer to anxiety. Bringing everything we struggle with, everything we deal with, all the vicissitudes and difficulties of this life…
bringing them to God in prayer through eucharistia
— that is the antidote to a life of anxiety.
And as I mentioned earlier, the word anxiety is very similar to the word for “remember”. Merimnaō
is the verb anxiety, and the reason for that is that we tend to be anxious about the things that we think about frequently. So if you want a little test for this, ask yourself, what are you always thinking about? What does your mind tend to, so to speak, loop around? What does it tend to go to?
Another test is, what’s the first thing that you think about when you wake up in the morning? That will often reveal to you where your heart is and what you’re most attached to, but also, if you wake up with worry, that’s a revelation of what you’re anxious about.
For example — one more example from the Gospels. Jesus uses the exact same verb in the story of Mary and Martha. So Martha is trying to get everything ready to serve Jesus, and Jesus says to her:
“Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is needful.
So as St. Therese and other commentators, Gregory the Great, have pointed out, Jesus doesn’t rebuke Martha for serving. He rebukes her for being anxious. Because her mind is troubled and distracted by all of these things that she has to do, so that she’s focused on them and she’s taking her focus away from Christ. Listening to Jesus is the one thing necessary. And if those other duties distract her and pull her mind and heart away from Christ, then they become a problem. They become, so to speak, an obstacle.
I have more about that in my book, Introduction to the Spiritual Life.
I’ve got a section on Martha and Mary and Jesus— on that whole passage. For now, though, I just think it’s fascinating and important that Paul, in this passage here, is saying that the antidote to having anxiety is not just to pray but to pray with gratitude…
to pray with gratitude — to ask Christ, to ask the Lord and make our supplications known to God, but to do it with eucharistia.
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