Friday of the First Week of Advent: Is. 29:17-24; Ps. 24:1, 4, 13-14; Mt. 9:27-31
(Optional) Memorial of St. Nicholas of Myra, Bishop: Is. 6:1-8; Ps. 40:2, 4, 7-11; Lk. 10:1-9
There is a rhythm to the daily Mass readings, by which the Church reminds us that, while there is “a reason to the season,” there is another, deeper purpose to the season than what lies on the surface. This characteristic of the readings, which is especially prominent during the preparatory/penitential seasons of Advent and Lent, serves to remind us that the point of the season is not merely to prepare us, spiritually, for the coming festive seasons of Christmas and Easter, but to impress upon us that that preparation points toward our mission as Christian disciples. Not infrequently during these periods, a succession of two or three days’s readings will find counterpoint in the next day’s reading, when an alternative vision of the prophetic message – or a view of the realization of the promise that has unfolded over the previous days is shown to come to fulfillment – provides a sense of “what it has all been about” during the earlier part of the week.
It happens occasionally, as today, that when two sets of readings are offered (as under the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’s new scheme for providing proper readings both for the Mass “of the season,” and also for any memorials, either obligatory, or optional, occurring on that day), they provide, among themselves, the sort of counterpoint described above, in a more compact – and hence, more explicit presentation. The readings for Friday of the First Week of Advent tell of the promise of the coming Kingdom of God. Drawn from the prophet Isaiah’s extended meditation on “The Lord Alone, Israel’s and Judah’s Salvation” (chapters 28-33), they foretell a time when the Promised Land shall bloom “like an orchard”; when the deaf shall hear and the blind shall see; when evildoers will be cut off and cast into perdition; when Jacob shall once again venerate and worship the Lord.
The responsorial psalm expresses Jacob’s (and our!) longing for the house of the Lord, our desire to live only in and with and for Him. The Psalmist anticipates Jacob’s return to holiness, which Isaiah prophesied, and calls upon Jacob to be steadfast: “Wait for the Lord with courage; be stouthearted, and wait for the Lord!” (Ps. 24:14). The Gospel reading validates and confirms the typology of the prophetic message from Isaiah; as the Prophet notes, on the day of the Lord, the deaf will hear and the blind will see; in the Gospel, Our Lord cures two blind men, thus indicating that the prophesied day of the Lord (that is, the Kingdom of Heaven) is at hand. The cured men’s gratitude for their healing – they disobey the Lord’s injunction to remain silent about what has happened to them, but rather “went out and spread word of him through all that land” (v. 31) indicates, or foreshadows, how we are to respond to the coming of the Messiah.
The alternate readings provided for the Memorial of St. Nicholas of Myra give us a different perspective on salvation history, and the promise of the coming Messiah. They stand in contrast not only to the readings for the weekday, but for the readings that we have heard all of this first week of Advent. If the readings for Friday of the First Week of Advent show us the promise of how things will be when the Kingdom of God is established (and are of a piece with, and in line with, the daily readings from the whole week just past), the readings for the Memorial of St. Nicholas show us in a particular way how we are to respond to the coming of Christ.
Today’s theme, the theme of St. Nicholas, if you will, should have special resonance for Dominicans, and indeed for all mendicants. It is a comprehensive, clarion call to mission – to being sent forth, and actually going forth.
The Scripture reading is the beginning of “The Book of Emmanuel,” from Isaiah 6. It is the Prophet’s vision of the Kingdom of Heaven (which will be mirrored in the prophecy of Daniel, and the apocalyptic vision of St. John), culminating in the purification of Isaiah’s lips with a burning coal (thus purifying him), and concluding with the Lord’s rhetorical invitation, “Whom shall I send?” – to which Isaiah responds, as we should respond, “Here I am! Send me!” The responsorial psalm echoes, Isaiah’s eager longing to be sent, and recites the Psalmist’s record of steadfast, active ministry on toward, and on behalf of, the People of God.
The Gospel passage from Luke recounts Our Lord’s dispatch of the 72 disciples, two-by-two (a profound influence on St. Dominic’s plan of action for the dispersal of the brethren!), and His instructions as to how they are to act, both while traveling and while ministering in the various towns.
So what is the point of all of this? Why this drawn-out commentary on what-will-be versus being-sent-forth? The point is this: in the midst of our Advent preparations, as we figuratively sweep out our hearts and make all ready for the coming of the Messiah, today’s readings serve as a trenchant reminder that we are not just to sit back and wait for the waves of Emmanuel to wash over us. It is not enough for us to say, “Veni, veni, Emmanuel,” no matter how fervently, and leave it at that.
We are called – at all times, but particularly during the preparatory seasons of Advent and Lent – to go forth to meet Christ, Who comes forth to meet us. Our Mass readings this week have prophesied, through the pen of perhaps the greatest of all of the messianic prophets, of what a blissful era of peace the coming of the Kingdom of God will be. Today’s readings for the Memorial of St. Nicholas are a call to action for us to do our part to make the prophesied Kingdom a reality. It is a call to conversion, and a summons to action.
The coming of the Messiah should not be something that happens to us, or around us, or merely in our presence. It should be – and if we are to obtain the full graces thereof, it must be – something that happens with us, with our cooperation, in greeting Our Lord as He comes to us in the flesh. So on this First Friday of December, the first Friday of Advent – the first Friday of liturgical year 2020, let us take courage. Let us joyfully anticipate the Child Who is to come. Let us look forward with eager anticipation not merely to the coming, but to the establishment of the Kingdom of God. Let us make ourselves ready, interiorly and exteriorly, to receive God-made-Man, Emmanuel. But let us also remember that we are sent and summoned to exercise our own ministries in bringing the Kingdom to life.