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Third Sunday of Advent

December 11, 2022
Sister Dorothy Stang, SNDdeN

Today’s Invitation

To prophetic imagination: Today we invite you to explore how God’s creation teaches us about God’s kindom of peace and justice, to engage the “see-judge-act method” in the Catholic social tradition, to embody contemplative practices to notice God at work in all of creation, and to be challenged by the prophetic witness of the people of God in the Amazon region.

Commentary by Luke Hansen

Third Sunday of Advent

Reading 1

Isaiah 35:1-6, 10

Let the desert and the wilderness exult,
let the Arabah rejoice and bloom.
Let it blossom profusely like the jonquil,
let it rejoice and sing for joy.
The glory of Lebanon is bestowed on it,
the splendor of Carmel and Sharon;
they will see the glory of YHWH,
the splendor of the Most High.
Strengthen all weary hands, steady all trembling knees;
say to all faint hearts,
“Courage! Do not be afraid!
Look, YHWH is coming,
vindication is coming, YHWH’s recompense;
YHWH is coming to save you.”
Then the eyes of those who are blind will be opened,
the ears of those who are deaf will be cleared;
then those who are lame will leap like deer
and the tongues of those who are mute will sing for joy.
They will enter Zion shouting for joy,
everlasting joy on their faces;
joy and gladness will go with them,
and sorrow and lament will flee away.

Responsorial Psalm

Psalm 146:6-7, 8-9, 9-10.

Response: With divine retribution, you are saved.

Adonai, You keep faith forever,  secure justice for the oppressed,
You give food to the hungry.  Adonai, You set captives free.
R: With divine retribution, you are saved.

You give sight to the blind, You raise up those that were bowed down
And love the just.  You protect strangers.
R: With divine retribution, you are saved.

The orphan and the widow You sustain, but the way of the wicked You thwart.
The Most High will reign forever;
Your God, O Zion, through all generations. Alleluia.
R: With divine retribution, you are saved.

Reading 2

James 5:7-10

Be patient, my sisters and brothers,
until the appearance of Christ.
See how the farmer awaits the precious yield of the soil,
looking forward to it patiently
while the soil receives the winter
and the spring rains.
You, too, must be patient.
Steady your hearts,
because the second coming is at hand.
Do not grumble against one another, my sisters and brothers,
or you will be judged.
The Judge is standing at the door!
To learn how to persevere patiently under hardship, sisters and brothers,
take as your models the prophets
who spoke in the name of the Most High.


Matthew 11:2-11

While John was in prison,
he heard about the works the Messiah was performing,
and sent a message by way of his disciples to ask Jesus,
“Are you ‘The One who is to come’ or do we look for another?”
In reply, Jesus said to them,
“Go back and report to John what you hear and see:
‘Those who are blind recover their sight;
those who cannot walk are able to walk;
those with leprosy are cured;
those who are deaf hear;
the dead are raised to life;
and the anawim — the “have-nots” —
have the Good News preached to them.’
“Blessed is the one who finds no stumbling block in me.”
As the messengers set off,
Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John,
“What did you go out to the wasteland to see — a reed swaying in the wind?
Tell me, what did you go out to see — someone luxuriously dressed?
No, those who dress luxuriously  are to be found in royal palaces.
So what did you go out to see — a prophet?
Yes, a prophet — and more than a prophet!
It is about John that scripture says,
‘I send my messenger ahead of you
to prepare your way before you.’
“The truth is, history has not known a person born of woman
who is greater than John the Baptizer.
Yet the least born into the kindom of Heaven
is greater than he.”

The Inclusive Lectionary © 2022 FutureChurch. All rights reserved. 

The inclusive language psalms:
Leach, Maureen, O.S.F. and Schreck, Nancy, O.S.F., Psalms Anew: A Non-sexist Edition
(Dubuque, IA: The Sisters of St. Francis, 1984).
Used with permission.



The transformation that God brings about is total and integral

Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907-1972), a Polish-born American rabbi, described the Hebrew prophets as those who know and communicate the heart of God to the people of God. “Their intense sensitivity to right and wrong is due to their intense sensitivity to God’s concern for right and wrong. They feel fiercely because they hear deeply,” Heschel writes. “Prophecy is the voice that God has lent to the silent agony.” (The Insecurity of Freedom: Essays on Human Existence, 11-12) (1959)

Heschel gifted the world with profound and influential writings in religion and spirituality, but perhaps more significantly, he walked the path of a prophet. He was active in the civil rights movement, marching from Selma to Montgomery, and the peace movement, speaking out against the Vietnam War. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Rabbi Heschel is a person who is relevant at all times, always standing with prophetic insights.”

Each Sunday during the Season of Advent, we hear from the Hebrew prophet Isaiah, a deeply contemplative person of God who had the courage to recognize and name the silent agony of the people and the land. Isaiah spoke to a people who experienced domination by a foreign power, internal corruption, economic hardship and displacement. The people lived in or near a desert and their major city, Jerusalem, was under siege.

Isaiah spoke words of warning to his people, but he also saw more and called the people to more. He saw that the darkness would not ultimately win, that death would not have the final word, and that God was bringing about something new. This is why we walk with Isaiah during Advent. Amid the darkness, Advent is a season of imagination and anticipation and even joy. Today we celebrate Gaudete Sunday, a day for “rejoicing” (gaudete in Latin).

What is God’s dream for the people that we hear from Isaiah in Advent?

Nations “shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks” and not train for war again (Isaiah 2:4).

In this time of peace, “the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb” (Isaiah 11:6a).

And today we hear: We may live in a desert but it will bloom with abundant flowers (35:2). We may feel weak and afraid, but God is coming to save us, so “be strong, fear not!” (35:3-4). Our mourning will turn into joy (35:10).

The transformation that God brings about is total and integral. We know it is personal and communal, but it is also ecological. Isaiah announces: The desert and the parched land will bloom with abundant flowers and rejoice with joyful song.

Let us take a moment to imagine this ecological transformation.

The rainforests will expand, not burn. The world will breathe again. The rivers and oceans will be clean. Life will flourish. Humans will use renewable energy. The storms will calm. Jesus, like Isaiah, invoked various elements of God’s creation in order to help us to understand God’s coming reign. In the Parable of the Sower, for example, Jesus refers to farmers, seeds, birds, the sun, thorns, rocky ground and rich soil. If we prepare ourselves to receive, understand and live God’s Word, then the seed can produce fruit one hundredfold (Matthew 13:1-23). Jesus also likened the kindom of God to a mustard seed, the smallest of seeds that can nevertheless grow into a large tree, providing a home to birds (Matthew 13:31-32). The kindom, Jesus taught us, is characterized by this abundance.

In today’s reading from the Letter of James, the author encourages the followers of Jesus to imitate the patience of the farmer, the one who lives close to the land, who “waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains” (5:7). Here the author makes a direct reference to the agricultural season that would be familiar to those living in ancient Palestine. Disciples of Jesus must patiently persevere in doing good as we wait for “the coming of the Lord,” the fulfillment of God’s kindom of peace and justice. Scripture is a powerful teacher that God’s creation can help us to understand and undergo conversion for God’s kindom.

Commentary by Luke Hansen

Luke Hansen is a campus minister and religious studies teacher at St. Ignatius College Preparatory in San Francisco. In his work as a journalist, he has reported from the Vatican, Honduras, El Salvador and Guantánamo Bay, and has won several awards from the Catholic Press Association for his writing.

Engage Catholic Social Teaching

Environmental Justice

Advent is a season of imagination. The prophet Isaiah is inviting the people to imagine differently and more deeply. Darkness may cover the land but there is also light — and God is calling us to something more, to live differently. The vision is not just religious, social and economic but also ecological. Isaiah can see that the desert and the parched land will bloom with abundant flowers and rejoice with joyful song.

“Seeing” deeply is the first movement of the see-judge-act methodology in the Catholic social tradition. This method and practice was first developed and popularized by Joseph Cardijn (1882-1967), a Belgian priest and the founder of the Young Christian Workers movement. Later, it became prominent in liberation movements and church documents.

To see means to ask, “What is happening? What is the reality?” — especially from the perspective of the margins. The place from which one does theology and social analysis matters. Where does one stand? With whom does one stand? To see means listening to persons and groups who experience oppression and also utilizing social sciences to better understand the economic, political and cultural forces that shape our lives.

To judge means to ask, “Why is this happening?” It involves examining root causes and drawing from Scripture and the Catholic social tradition to make judgments about the situation. What can we learn from the witness of the prophets and Jesus? 

Finally, to act means to develop a social and pastoral plan and to follow through on it. The plan addresses immediate needs and root causes. It might involve consciousness raising, education, dialogue and/or nonviolent direct action.

In the encyclical Laudato Si’ (2015), Pope Francis uses this method in relation to the ecological crisis. The document synthesizes the latest scientific research on climate change and ecological devastation, draws from the Catholic social tradition to evaluate and judge the role of human choice in the crisis, and imagines pathways of conversion and new attitudes and behaviors that show greater care for our common home.

A few years ago, in beautiful gardens on the Gianicolo Hill in Rome, I participated in what is called the Laudato Si’ Mass.

After the opening prayer, I expected to hear the first reading from the Book of Numbers. Instead, the priest said that together we would take three minutes to listen to the “original book of Scripture: creation.” He invited us to silence, so we could look, listen and smell the creation around us, as another important way of receiving God’s word.

This creative invitation expanded my imagination and helped me to see something that I could not see before. The experience was part of my ongoing ecological conversion.

This conversion begins with contemplation: contemplation of God, God’s people and all of God’s creation, which we are part of and which surrounds us.


A Contemplative Exercise

St. Ignatius Loyola (1491-1556), a Basque priest and the founder of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits), wrote a retreat guide called The Spiritual Exercises that offers contemplations and meditations to help strengthen people’s spiritual lives and social commitments.

Two particular exercises can help us to see more clearly and deeply.

In the Contemplation on the Incarnation, Ignatius invites us to “see the various persons on the face of the earth, so diverse in dress and behavior: some white and others black, some in peace and others at war, some weeping and others laughing, some healthy and others sick, some being born and others dying, and so forth.” For you, what concrete faces appear? Listen to what they are saying. See what they are doing.

Next, Ignatius invites us to see the Divine Trinity, and to notice their gaze upon the world. Let’s take a moment to ask God: What is your dream, your hope, for this reality? What is your dream for this vast and beautiful world: its people and all of creation? 

In the final exercise of The Spiritual Exercises, Ignatius invites us to “consider how God dwells in creatures; in the elements, giving them existence; in the plants, giving them life; in the animals, giving them sensation; in human beings, giving them intelligence; and finally, how in this way God dwells also in myself, giving me existence, life, sensation and intelligence; and even further, making me God’s temple, since I am created in the image and likeness of the Divine Majesty.” Can we also see God at work in all these ways, in us, and in every aspect of God’s creation? Take a moment to consider this mystery.

A Witness

Dorothy Stang, SNDdeN

The prophetic working document of the Amazon Synod, which REPAM helped develop before the global meeting of bishops took place in Rome in September 2019, acknowledges the risk that many people and groups have taken in defense of human rights and land. The document cites a report that “in Brazil alone, 1,119 indigenous people were murdered between 2003 and 2017 for defending their territory.” 

One of the martyrs that the document names is Sr. Dorothy Stang (1931-2005), a native of Dayton, Ohio, and a member of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur. In 1966, Sr. Dorothy went to Brazil to accompany and support people who farmed in the Amazonian region. Over the decades, according to her community’s website, “loggers, ranchers, land speculators, and agribusiness became the dominant forces in the region, victimizing the poorer farmers and destroying the rainforest.”

Even after she was named to a “death list” for her defense of indigenous land and human rights, Sr. Dorothy remained with the community and continued her advocacy. On February 12, 2005, as two hired gunmen approached her in a rural area of Pará, Brazil, Sr. Dorothy began to recite the Beatitudes. The men fired six shots and killed her.

A Community

Pan-Amazonian Ecclesial Network

Following the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), global meetings called “Synods of Bishops” convened every few years and focused on various topics of importance for the church. The most recent completed synod, rather than focusing on an entire continent or a topic like Scripture or Eucharist, focused for the first time on a distinct ecological territory, the Amazon region, which includes nine different countries and about 34 million inhabitants, including three million indigenous people from 390 ethnic groups.

In the two years leading up to synod, a lay-led Catholic organization, the Pan-Amazonian Ecclesial Network, known as REPAM, coordinated and conducted a substantial process of consultation directly involving about 87,000 people from the Amazon, including 300 listening sessions in each of the nine countries in the Amazonian territory.

About 22,000 people were directly involved in the territorial assemblies and smaller dialogue groups, and another 65,000 people participated in parish groups. This massive undertaking of listening and discernment followed the see-judge-act method.

In a prophetic way, the grassroots process led by REPAM helped bring to the institutional center of the church the rich diversity of cultures and gifts in the region, as well as the urgent concerns of ecological and cultural devastation, of human trafficking, the impact of climate change and extractive activities on indigenous communities, and also the practical ministerial challenges of the church in the Amazon.


Beautiful Things

The song “Beautiful Things,” by Gungor, offers a powerful reflection on God’s creation, humanity, and the possibility of change and rebirth. The song asks, “All this earth / Could all that is lost ever be found? / Could a garden come out from this ground, at all?” while reaffirming that God makes beautiful things “out of the dust” and “out of us.” In fact, “All around, / Hope is springing up from this old ground / Out of chaos life is being found, in you.” God does make beautiful things. There is hope.