Religion is reduced to performance of obligations and is dominated by a fear of punishment.
Today’s readings give an image of God diametrically opposed to this view. The Lord is presented as a compassionate and merciful provider caring for every human need -- not as a harsh and condemning judge.
Listen to Jesus. Jesus has just cured all, making the mute speak, the deformed whole, the lame walk, the blind see. But he is still not satisfied because the people have not been fed. He exclaims poignantly, “My heart is moved with pity for the crowd for they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat.” And so having healed all that were ill, Jesus now feeds them.
Listen to Isaiah. No need to fear the coming Day of the Lord, “The Lord GOD will wipe away the tears from all faces. On that day it will be said ‘Behold our God to whom we looked to save us! This is the LORD for whom we looked; let us rejoice and be glad that he has saved us!’”
Listen to the Psalmist. We are never alone even amid trials, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. In verdant pastures he gives me repose; beside restful waters he leads me; he refreshes my soul. Even though I walk in the dark valley I fear no evil; for you are at my side.”
The Judeo-Christian religion is love-based, not fear-based. It is a tender relationship between God, the Lover, and ourselves, the beloved. Our religious practices flow from this love.
In Advent we beg to experience anew this love. We invite God to be with us where we need God most. In Advent we open our hearts, especially amid our trials when the only strength capable of sustaining us fully comes from the Lord.
Today we celebrate the Jesuit martyr Edmund Campion (1540-1581) who was hanged, drawn and quartered in England for his faith. On the scaffold he confessed boldly: “I am a Catholic man and a priest; in that faith I have lived and in that faith I intend to die. If you esteem my religion treason, then I am guilty; as for other treason, I have never committed any. God is my judge.”
Maranatha: Come Lord Jesus! Strengthen us in our need — in the faith in which we live; in the faith we intend to die!
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