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2nd Sunday of Advent: Living in the Unity of Faith

For this 2nd Sunday of Advent the Roman Station church is the Basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem where the wooden beams of the Cross and relics of the Passion brought to Rome by the Empress Helena were deposited and are venerated still today. Last week we were stationed at St. Mary Major where wooden slats of the Lord’s manger crib at Bethlehem are reverenced. This Sunday we, like Christ Himself, journey from the crib to the Cross. In the choice of the Roman Stations, Holy Church reminds us of what St. Thomas Becket of Canterbury preached in a final sermon before his immanent death on 29 December 1162:

At this time of year we celebrate at the same time the birth of Our Lord and his Passion and death upon the Cross. Beloved, as the world sees it, this is to behave in a strange fashion. For who in the world will both mourn and rejoice at once and for the same reason? For either joy will be overcome by mourning, or mourning will be cast out by joy.  So it is only in these our Christmas Mysteries that we can rejoice and mourn at once for the same reason. The crib and the Cross are two of the great mysteries of our salvation, but we cannot truly understand one without the other.

The Gospel reading for Sunday’s Mass is taken from Matthew 11, wherein two disciples of John the Baptist asked Jesus if He was the one for whom they were waiting. I focused on that Gospel passage in last year’s column for this Sunday. It seems best, therefore, to have a close look at the Epistle, which is from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans.

Context is always helpful. As the great writer of the 20th centuries Liturgical Movement Fr. Pius Parsch points out, Advent can be divided into two phases, the first of which includes these first two Sundays. On the 1st Sunday we heard the announcement that “the King is Coming.” We call to mind how, in the ancient world, great rulers performed visitations of their holdings to take stock, to reconcile the books, as it were, and to make judgments. Such an appearance was a parousia, which term we apply to the Second Coming of the Lord, the Just Judge and King of Fearful Majesty.

On this 2nd Sunday, we hear that not only is the King coming, He is coming to Jerusalem. It is not by accident that the Roman Station is where it is today.

Turning again to Parsch, we can think of “Jerusalem” in terms of an archeological dig: according to the strata that are uncovered. In this view, “Jerusalem” might have four stages, the first being the historical city of the Jews, of the now superseded and destroyed Temple, in whose streets the Lord acted and spoke and where He suffered, died and rose again. The second would be today’s Jerusalem of the Holy Catholic Church, of Christians in One Body of Christ, in whom Christ still speaks and acts, especially in her sacred liturgical worship whereby His Sacrifice is renewed. Thirdly, there is a Jerusalem to come, the heavenly Jerusalem which will come down from heaven at the end of time. Lastly, our devout souls in the state of grace are a Jerusalem adorned and readied for the advent of the King, His visitation. In today’s Collect, Father prays on our behalf:

Stir up our hearts, O Lord, to prepare the ways of Your only-begotten Son, so that through His coming we may be able to serve You with purified minds.

Some context for the Epistle reading from Romans 15.

In late 57 or early 58 AD, after his third missionary journey Paul was preparing to return to Jerusalem to “bring aid for the saints” (Rom 15:25).

Paul had not yet been to Rome, which, as one does, he wanted to visit and then go to Spain (Rom 15:23). The French Jesuit scholar of the theology of St. Paul, Ferdinand Prat offers:

For a long time the gaze of the Apostle had been fixed on Rome. A vehement desire to visit the little growing church there harrowed his mind. He kept saying to himself: “I must see Rome.”‘ It was not the sort of fascination that the capital of the world exercised upon provincials and foreigners. A voice within him urged him thither irresistibly. His tactics had ever been to make his assault upon great cities, thus to strike Paganism at its heart, convinced that through the power of attraction which always draws country districts towards a metropolis, they would follow sooner or later. Perhaps, too, he had a supernatural presentiment that the centre of the world was predestined to be also the centre of the Church. Moreover, it seemed to him that his work in the East was finished — having firmly planted the Gospel at Antioch, Corinth, and Ephesus, and in the principal cities of Galatia and Macedonia, the rest was only an affair of time. The seed had been sown; it would spring up of itself under the breath of divine grace. Others could garner the harvest.

Hence, Paul wrote to the Romans as a way of introduction and because he had met quite a few Roman Jewish Christians elsewhere during their exile. In 49 AD the Emperor Claudius had expelled the Jews from Rome, though some returned in 54. Therefore, the Christian community in Rome would have been majority Gentile. Paul wrote to the Romans perhaps while he was in Corinth, where the Roman Jewish Christians Priscila and Aquila had been during their exile (Acts 18:1-4): Paul greets them, back in Rome (Romans 16:3).

Our Mass pericope (a cutting of Scripture for liturgical use) is near to the end of the Letter – Romans: 15:4-13. Paul has treated many serious questions in this Letter. From Romans 14:1-15:13 (which includes our reading) he wrote about the “weak in faith,” the Jewish calendar and food laws and food offered to idols. He admonished them not to judge each other (14:13) and not to be a stumbling block for others (v. 14). He wanted to close the gap between Jewish and Gentile practices in the context of the New Covenant in Christ.

At Mass the priest reads and the Subdeacon sings (RSV),

Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope. May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Note the repetition of vocabulary and the emphasis on living in harmony.

The latter is understandable. Paul was in Corinth where there had been problems in the community, indeed in all the communities Paul wrote to. In Rome, there was a mix of Jewish and Gentile Christians, Jews returning after all exile. Surely that would have caused tensions about leadership, about what customs to follow, Jewish or not, etc. Paul wanted to help them live in harmony.

The repeated terms catch our attention. It is a rhetorical device which underscores something important. Paul wrote formally, “Whatever was written in former days (Greek prográphe) was written (prográphe) for”… what? For instruction. Why? So we can have hope and harmony, literally “to be of the same mind with one another.” Paul also is hereby teaching that the Scriptures, which in his time were what we call the Old Testament, are a guiding light.

In your hand missals you might find that the passage in the Douay-Reims Version:

Whatever things have been written have been written for our instruction, that through the patience and the consolation afforded by the Scriptures we may have hope. May then the God of patience and of comfort grant you to be of one mind towards one another according to Jesus Christ;

“Steadfastness” (RSV) and “patience” (DRV) stand for Greek hypomonē: a kind of constancy and perseverance. In New Testament Koine Greek this is the “the characteristic of a man who is not swerved from his deliberate purpose and his loyalty to faith and piety by even the greatest trials and sufferings.”

In the New Testament, we find different words for what comes into English as “patience… longsuffering… endurance… perseverance” and so forth. Makrothumía as the synonym of the Hebrew arek appayim (“long of nose”, the image being of nostrils flaring from hard-breathing anger, “seething”). Both words mean essentially the same thing: “slow to anger.” In the New Testament we find also hypomonē. Both Greek words generally mean the same thing. However, scholars have noted that each has characteristics that set it apart. Greek makrothumía (long-passion-ness) is patience in respect to persons being slow to anger which we call “longanimity.” Greek hypomonē (rather-remaining-ness) is putting up with things or circumstances.  Makrothumia, in Paul’s list of Fruits of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), seems more related to love. The opposite is wrath and desire for revenge. Hypomonē is related to hope since one’s reliance is on the “God of steadfastness and encouragement.” The opposite is cowardice and despondency. The word for “encouragement” is paráklesis which gives us Paraclete as a name for the Holy Spirit, the “counselor… advocate… encourager.”

Certainly, there is a measure of interlocking in the terms, since they both describe the complex of thoughts and emotions that go on when we are under pressure, either by people or circumstances (which mostly result from people). As a result, we can see that both longanimity (makrothumía) and perseverance (hypomoné) should be reflections and indeed accelerants of the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity.

When we are tried in our hypomonē, we grow in hope and faith in the Lord through perseverance with life’s vicissitudes. When we are challenged in our makrothumía, the Fruits of the Spirit increase, outward signs that we are in the state of grace.

Paul desired that the Gentile and Jewish Christians in Rome be “in harmony… of the same mind with each other … tò auto phroneín en allélois.” To this end, he described how Christ came first to the Jews so that the Good News could then be expanded to the Gentiles. You will recall how at first the Lord seemed to balk when a Gentile, Canaanite woman asked for a miracle, saying that He was come first for the Jews (Matthew 15:21-28). You will remember that it was time for the Passion to begin when Greek speaking Gentiles came to seek Him in Jerusalem (John 13:20-23). Paul wrote to the Romans (vv 8-9):

For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy.

“To be of one mind… to be in harmony” doesn’t not mean to be in reason-abdicating lockstep. There are issues open to questions and questioning. However, when it comes to matters of faith and of morals that are solemnly or infallibly defined we must be in harmony, both outwardly and inwardly.

It is a Christian imperative to live in the unity of faith. One who would reject a formally defined dogma of the faith or a sure, perennial teaching on morals would be opposed to the Church. The consequences of such would be dire.

If we must be “in one mind” regarding formally defined teachings on faith and morals, so too should we be in harmony in our fulfillment of the virtue of Religion, of giving to God what is due, especially by devout worship.

In this matter, we can be one of mind in devotion to God, as individuals, as families, as ecclesial communities and, finally, in a way that binds them together in mutual charity, sacrificial love for others. As individuals we can be devout and offer devotions to God in various ways. Some might prefer the Stations of the Cross, others recitation of the Rosary. As families, devotions might take the form of evening prayers together as well as before and after meals, when rising and retiring. As communities, perhaps parishes, some might have Novenas and others Exposition or ethnically grounded practices. We can have legitimate differences through participation in worship in the Eastern Church’s Divine Liturgy or the Western Church’s Holy Mass. The key is to enter into each activity, whether alone or collectively, with real attention and a willed choice.

One devotional discipline undertaken with true and diligent devotion is better than a dozen different devotions drawled in distraction.

In Sunday’s Epistle we hear Paul’s words: “Welcome one another, therefore, as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” (v. 7).   “As Christ has…”.

The Lord said:

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another (John 13:34-5).

Practice works of mercy out of devotion and true charity. If we were to do this on a wide scale, consider the impact it might have on our communities. Either way, if you undertake this, there will be a harmony together with the sorts of patience and encouragement we need in this vale of tears, so that

the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.

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