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Abiding Word: Sunday Reflections for Year B

September 20, 2011:

The church’s cycle of scriptural readings for the liturgy offers all believers an opportunity to immerse themselves in the Word of God.  It is a very real and tangible way of responding to the call of Jesus: “Remain in me, as I remain in you.”

In these selections of her popular weekly column “The Word” in America magazine, Barbara Reid, OP, offers reflections on the Scripture readings for each Sunday and solemnity for Lectionary Year B.  Together, they serve as a weekly aid to enter more deeply into the abiding word. 

This book, so clearly the fruit of Reid’s own prayer and lived experience, promises to serve as an indispensible resource for presiders, preachers, and catechists.  It will also be welcomed by anyone who wishes to enter more deeply into the cycle of scriptural readings through the liturgical participation and personal prayer.

Excerpt From Chapter
The Expectant Months:
First Sunday of Advent
Readings: Isa 63:16b-17, 19b; 64:2-7;
Ps 80:2-3, 15-16, 18-19; 1 Cor 1:3-9; Mark 13:33-37

“We are the clay and you the potter” (Isa 64:7)

“Be watchful! Be alert! Don’t be caught unaware!” Jesus warns his disciples in this Sunday’s gospel. We begin another Advent season of watching and waiting. For some, it is a time of delight, waiting eagerly for Christmas, for anticipated gifts, for time off from work and school, and for happy gatherings of family and friends. For others, it is a dreaded time, as they approach their first holiday without a loved one or worry about how they will pay for the gifts and meals they want to provide. Whatever our situation, the Scripture readings today help us to adopt a stance of faithful watching and waiting.

Advent is not a time of waiting for the coming of the Christ Child—that already happened more than two thousand years ago. It is, rather, a time when we break our normal routine and move into heightened alert to perceive more intensely the ways of Emmanuel, “God-with-us.” The watchfulness that Jesus speaks about in today’s gospel is not waiting in dread, nor is the object of our vigilance unknown. Rather, it is attentive listening for the familiar footstep of the returning Beloved. We would not want to be found sleeping but ready with open arms.

Most of us find waiting very difficult. We try to eliminate it as much as possible with fast food, express lines, and ever speedier internet connections. Waiting for the end of a prolonged illness, or at the unemployment office, is another kind of torturous waiting. Waiting for the return of a long-expected loved one can seem impossibly long. It is this last kind of waiting of which today’s gospel speaks: constant vigilance for the return of the Beloved who has entrusted everything to our care in the interim.

The time of waiting and watching is not idle biding of time or maintaining the status quo. Like parents anticipating the birth of a child, we have much work to do during the expectant months. In today’s gospel Jesus talks about each one having his or her own work to do and having been given the power to accomplish it. Paul too encourages the Corinthians and us by reminding us that we lack no spiritual gift as we wait for the revelation of Christ.

We may wonder how we will recognize the coming One. In the first reading today the exiles want God to manifest divine power in a way that will be absolutely unmistakable. They pray that God would “rend the heavens and come down, with the mountains quaking before him.” They want God to show divine power in “awesome deeds,” such as “no ear has ever heard, no eye has ever seen.” Such a revelation would compel belief and good behavior. But in Advent we call to mind again that divine power is revealed not in pyrotechnic displays of fire and quaking mountains but in the immense love that comes in the form of a vulnerable child. God has ruptured the dividing line between divinity and humanity by taking on human flesh in Christ. Advent asks us, likewise, to both embody Christ and to watch for his presence in each one we meet, particularly those who are most needy.

In our watching and waiting, we can become discouraged when we know how unlike Christ we have been. We can feel like the returned exiles in the first reading from Isaiah, who lament, “all of us have become like unclean people, all our good deeds are like polluted rags; we have all withered like leaves and our guilt carries us away like the wind.” Although they had experienced God’s redeeming acts in bringing them safely out of Babylon, they now find daunting the work of reconstructing the temple and their lives in Jerusalem. Their land is despoiled, their economic resources are puny, and their own sinfulness looms large. Unable by their own means to reshape the inner and outer muck of their lives, they give themselves over to the Divine Potter, saying, “we are the clay and you the potter; we are all the work of your hands.” This is the One who remolds them into a faithful and hope-filled people.

In the end, it is not we but God who is faithful and watchful, as Paul tells the Corinthians. It is God who shepherds us with gentle strength, God who tenderly cares for us like a vinedresser his vineyard, as the responsorial psalm
assures us. No matter what our circumstances, the Divine Potter can mold us into watchful and hopeful disciples, empty bowls, open and waiting.

The beginning of a new liturgical year is a season to hollow out space in the busiest of days to rejoice in the extraordinary gift that has already been given us in Emmanuel, God with us. It is a time to let ourselves be remolded. It is a season to wait in hopeful anticipation for what this new piece of art will become.

Praying with Scripture
1. What image of God in today’s readings most appeals to you: potter, shepherd, redeemer, vinedresser, father, or returning lord?
2. What does God want to reshape in your life this Advent?
3. What gifts has God given you to be shared in this time of watching and waiting?

Paperback, 144 pp., 6 x 9, $18.95
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“Rich fare indeed!  This volume offers a rare combination of the fruits of biblical and liturgical scholarship and keen attention to human experience and the signs of the times. Providing striking new insights into the Sunday Readings for Year B, Abiding Word  is an invaluable resource for preachers, pastors, catechists, spiritual directors, and all who seek to share the Word of God with others.  For those who long to make the Word of God their home, but aren’t sure how to begin, this invitation to dwell in the Word offers wise and practical suggestions for how to enter into a contemplative reading of biblical texts.”

Mary Catherine Hilkert, O.P.
Professor of  Theology
University of Notre Dame

This rich volume draws the biblical text into the hearts of its readers and invites them to ponder, wonder, listen, and be surprised by the Spirit in celebration of Christ’s abiding love that rests in the midst of all people, all creation. With clarity and graced imagination, Barbara Reid has given us a concise yet insightful collection of reflections on the Sunday Readings for Year B. Solid in its scholarship and possessing a practical awareness of daily life with its challenges and blessings, this volume links the biblical text to the text of life, thereby making ancient stories and teachings wondrously new and ever refreshing.

Carol J. Dempsey, OP, Professor of Theology (Biblical Studies)
University of Portland, OR

From both pulpit and pew, good preaching invites reflection on daily life and the life of the soul, as illuminated by the images and rituals of scripture and liturgy, and in constant dialogue with family, community, nature, and social context. Barbara E. Reid's love of literature and passion for justice combine with a deep knowledge of scripture to inspire weekly insight for listeners called to abide in the living Word of God as found in the Roman Catholic Lectionary for Mass.

Gregory Heille, O.P.
Professor of Homiletics, Aquinas Institute of Theology, St. Louis