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First Sunday of Advent

December 3, 2023

Today’s Invitation

Today we invite you to explore the beginning of Advent with an analysis of the apocalyptic time that Jesus invokes, and what it has to do with the social order; engage Catholic Social Teaching through liberation theologian Jon Sobrino, and his understanding of the time to do justice on earth; and embody the kairos time for justice with the help of the songs of resistance in Brazil and El Salvador, and the example of the sisters executed by the state in El Salvador.

Commentary by Marcus Hyde

First Sunday of Advent

Reading 1

Isaiah 63:16-17, 64:1-8

You, YHWH, are our mother and father;
“Our Redeemer Forever” is your name.
YHWH, why do you let us wander from your ways
and let our hearts grow too hard to revere you?
Return to us for the sake of your children,
the tribes of your heritage!
Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down,
that the mountains would shake before you!
As fire kindles the brushwood
and the fire makes water boil,
make your Name known to your adversaries,
and let the nations tremble before you!
When you did awesome things
that we could not have expected,
you came down,
and the mountains quaked in your presence!
From ages past no ear has ever heard,
no eye ever seen any God but you
intervening for those who wait for you!
Oh, that you would find us doing right,
that we would be mindful of you in our ways!
You are angry because we are sinful;
we sinned for so long — how can we be saved?
All of us became unclean and soiled,
even our good deeds are polluted.
We have all withered like leaves,
and our guilt carries us away like the wind.
No one calls upon your Name,
there are none who cling to you,
for you hid your face from us
and delivered us into the hands of our sins.
Yet, you are our mother and father, YHWH;
we are the clay and you are the potter,
we are all the work of your hands.

Responsorial Psalm

Psalm 80

Response: Restore us, O God, and we will be secure when You smile upon us.

Hear me, o Shepherd of Israel, / enthroned on the cherubs, shine out,
Rouse Your power, / and come to save us!
R: Restore us, O God, and we will be secure when You smile upon us.

Please, Adonai Sabaoth, relent! / Look down from heaven, look at this vine.
Visit it, / protect what Your own right hand has planted.
R: Restore us, O God, and we will be secure when You smile upon us.

Safeguard those You have chosen, / those You have made strong.
Never again will we turn away from You; / restore us, O God.
R: Restore us, O God, and we will be secure when You smile upon us.

Reading 2

1 Corinthians 1:3-9

Grace and peace from our Loving God
and our Savior Jesus Christ.
I continually thank my God for you
because of the gift bestowed on you in Christ Jesus,
in whom you have been richly endowed with every gift of speech and knowledge.
In the same way, the testimony about Christ has been so confirmed among you
that you lack no spiritual gift, as you wait for the revelation of our Savior Jesus Christ.
God will strengthen you to the end,
so that you will be blameless on the day of our Savior Jesus Christ.
God, through whom you have been called into intimacy with Jesus, our Savior, is faithful.


Mark 13:33-37

Editor’s Note: Our commentator includes Mark 13:26-32 as part of the reading. It is included – in italics – below:

Then they will see the Promised One coming in the clouds with great power and glory;
then the angels will be sent to gather the chosen from the four winds,
from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven. 
“Take the fig tree as a parable:
as soon as its twigs grow supple and its leaves come out you know that summer is near.
In the same way, when you see these things happening,
know that the Promised One is near, right at the door.
The truth is, before this generation has passed away,
all these things will have taken place.
Heaven and Earth will pass away,
but my words will not pass away.
“But as for that day or hour, nobody knows it
— neither the angels of heaven, nor the Only Begotten —
no one but Abba God.”

Jesus said to the disciples:
“Be constantly on the watch! Stay awake!
You do not know when the appointed time will come.
“It is like people traveling abroad.
They leave their home and put the workers in charge, each with a certain task,
and those who watch at the front gate are ordered to stay on the alert.
So stay alert!
You do not know when the owner of the house is coming,
whether at dusk, at midnight, when the cock crows, or at early dawn.
Do not let the owner come suddenly and catch you asleep.
What I say to you, I say to all: stay alert!”

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.



Wait, and keep awake!

The Church’s lectionary for this year begins at the end of the book of Mark: Mark’s “Little Apocalypse.” The term apocalyptic, from the Greek apokálupsis (literally “revelation”), means to “uncover” or “pull back the veil”; to reveal the underbelly of reality. More popularly understood, the term is used to describe mythic texts about the end of the world. 

There are two common errors made when reading apocalyptic literature. The first is to treat the text as being too mysterious – like an indecipherable enigma with no practical meaning. The second error is to impose a supposedly literal meaning on the text to make specific predictions about future events. 

Jesus makes clear that it is a mistake to look for chronological meaning within his discourse. The disciples are told that the end times “will appear as the great tribulation” (see Mark 13:17, 19, 20, 24), but they are told that they cannot know when the time is, nor even what to look for. (Mark 13:32-33). But is the end of the world meant to be understood as an empirical, historical event? 

As theologian Ched Myers describes in Binding the Strongman: A Political Reading of Mark’s Story of Jesus (1988), that apocalyptic writing is meant to instill a “bifocal” perspective: “the collapsing of linear history into the political ‘moment’ in which a choice is demanded between competing ‘histories’ (e.g., that of domination and that of liberation)” (141). When Jesus talks about this time apocalyptically he is not talking about an event in history, but rather that now is the time to usher in a new way of living. In Greek, this is the difference between time as chronos and time as kairos. Chronos is linear time, as many view time today – and kairos means the time or moment for something to happen.

We get clarity as to what Jesus is talking about by looking back to earlier points in the Markan text. At the outset of the Gospel, Jesus speaks of the current Kairos moment: “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand” (1:15). And to drive the point home, Jesus often reminds his disciples that the kingdom of God is already at hand – it is the present Kairos in which his disciples already practice their new way of life in community (see e.g., 10:29-30: “there is no one who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for my sake and for the sake of the gospel who will not receive a hundred times more now in this present age”; and 1:14: “The time has come”).

Jesus’s message is clear if you choose to see it; but those who see apocalyptic discourse as deterministic have not understood it. It is neither fatalistic, nor deterministic. Rather, the new age can be present now, so long as the people live into it. But this requires both vigilance and political discernment amidst changing circumstances. The context of Mark’s Gospel makes these requirements clear.

Mark’s Gospel was written several decades after Christ’s murder at the hands of the Roman Empire, and during the Jewish-Roman War (66-70 CE), after Jewish rebels had captured the holy city of Jerusalem (66 CE) – the former seat of the Jewish Kingdom under David – and before the Romans would ultimately recapture the City and destroy the Second Jewish Temple (70 CE). During this time, many Jewish sects had placed a messianic hope in the flourishing of an autonomous Jewish Temple, free from the political control of Rome, and by extension, a free Jewish community based in Jerusalem. It is within these circumstances that Mark places Jesus’s apocalyptic sermon and the instruction – not to join the ultimately failed attempts to overthrow the Roman Empire, but to “keep awake.” 

Thus, amidst the messianic fervor of the Jewish-Roman War, Mark tells of Jesus preaching a sermon to his followers about political discernment. Mark’s contemporaries hoped that Roman domination of Jerusalem would come to an end – a goal that Jesus, who was crucified by Roman authorities for challenging their power (see 15:1-15), obviously shared. At the time of Mark’s writing, Jewish militias had, for the time being, taken back control of the temple, and it appeared as if they might have been successful in their goal. But what were they going to replace the current system with? 

Knowing that the system the rebels wished to replace the existing system with would replicate many of the same power relationships as before, Jesus asks his followers not to be swept up in the fervor of the moment, but rather to wait and keep awake!

Commentary by Marcus Hyde

Marcus Hyde came to Catholicism through the Catholic Worker Movement. Catholic Workers fed him when he was homeless, gave him a copy of their paper, prayed with him, let him wash some dishes, and invited him to round table discussions “for the clarification of thought.” He eventually realized that the Catholic Church, with all its faults and warts, was still the church of the poor, and thus, where God dwells. After much foot-dragging, he converted. He now works as a public defender in New York City and rants often about theology and prison abolition.

Engage Catholic Social Teaching

Catholic theology espouses an “eschatological proviso” – the claim that no particular political configuration or movement can be identified with the Kingdom of God because God’s Kingdom is much greater than any struggle or structure humans can engage in (see the work of Johann Baptist Metz). In a sense, this was Jesus’s message to his disciples in his apocalyptic sermon. Writing amidst the Jewish-Roman War, Jesus tells his disciples not to join in the political movement of the Jewish rebels, because they only hoped to reconstruct a new order on the old model of economic and political domination. As Ched Myers writes: “Why not aid and abet the rebel cause? Because it was mere rebellion, the recycling of oppressive power into new hands. To journey deeply into history, to experiment with a political practice that will break, not perpetuate, the reign of domination in the world – that is the meaning of Mark’s final call to ‘Watch!’ (13:37)” (343). The current rebels did not see anything fundamentally wrong with the existing system – they simply wished to be the ones in charge. 

In contrast, Mark’s Jesus sought not only to challenge the structural problems of the temple and state, and the symbolic order that the political economy is a manifestation of, but also the very ideology of domination that controlled the political culture of his day. Jesus demands a complete unraveling of the present order, and the emergence of a wholly other new order based on justice, where everyone’s needs were met. In other words, the rebel’s visions were not radical enough. He promises that “Heaven and Earth,” along with all the rebels’ plans, will also “pass away, but my words will never pass away” (13:31). 

There is a tendency among some theologians to utilize the eschatological proviso as a means of calling for political non-engagement. The challenge of liberation theology, however, (as well as the incarnation!) is that although God is greater than the confines of political movements and history, God nevertheless acts within and through history, and within and through individuals and masses of people. Liberationist Jon Sobrino quotes his slain friend and mentor Ignacio Ellacuría in Jesus the Liberator, “salvation history entails salvation in history” (46).

Sobrino was originally from Barcelona, but wrote mostly from his experience working alongside the peasant classes in El Salvador during that country’s brutal Civil War, which left over 75,000 people, mostly civilians, dead. On 16 November 1989, he narrowly escaped from the brutal murder of scholars at the Central American University (known as UCA El Salvador) by the Atlacatl Battalion, an elite unit of the Salvadoran Army, which was backed by the United States. He was away from El Salvador when members of the military broke into the rectory at the UCA and brutally murdered his six fellow Jesuits, Ignacio Ellacuría, Segundo Montes, Juan Ramón Moreno, Ignacio Martín-Baró, Amando López, and Joaquín López y López, along with their housekeeper Elba Ramos and her 16-year-old daughter Celina Ramos. The Jesuits were targeted for their outspoken work to bring a just resolution to the brutal war. 

Sobrino contends in “Theology in a Suffering World: Theology as Intelluctus Amoris” (1994) that “every theology must confront suffering, determine the fundamental form of suffering, and ask what can be done about it” (29). And like all liberation theologians, he understands that “reading the signs of the times” (Matt. 16:3) in the light of the Gospel means exposing how the salvific work of God can function within historical reality. To Sobrino this meant rejecting “privatized” interpretations of the meaning of the Kingdom of God, insisting rather that bringing forth the Kingdom of God requires the transformation of social and political structures. 

In “The Crucified Peoples: Yahweh’s Suffering Servant Today” (1991), Sobrino locates one social-historical location as the place where God’s salvific work is always revealed: the place of suffering. To Sobrino, those who suffer from poverty or injustice – suffering that is unjustly inflicted or allowed – have the highest theological significance. Accordingly, Christians are called to a particular type of political engagement: not to seek political power for themselves, nor to disengage, but to align themselves with and move in solidarity with “the crucified peoples” of this world through practical and concrete acts (120-9).

Sobrino’s theology is apocalyptic in that it is crafted with the express purpose of making spiritual crises apparent and eliciting a decisive choice on the part of the readers – it is operating in kairos time. Sobrino wishes to wake us up to the suffering of those around us. He writes in “Apocalypticism in Political and Liberation Theology” (2014): “[T]he message of apocalypticism is one of hope in the power of God to remake an unjust world and to do justice to its victims” (29).


A Contemplative Exercise

To Sobrino, the only appropriate theological understanding of history is to view it as a story of conflict and crisis. As a Jesuit, Sobrino draws from the central meditation of “The Two Standards” in Saint Ignatius of Loyola’s spiritual exercises to articulate what he calls “historical discernment.” Loyola described two competing “standards” that seek to determine the future of the world: the Kingdom of God, and the Kingdom of Satan, whereas Sobrino refers to the Kingdom of God, and the “anti-kingdom.” In his book Jesus the Liberator, Sobrino understands the “anti-kingdom” as specific historical realities that work against and oppose the kingdom of God. To Sobrino, the conflict between these two kingdoms is the most fundamental structure of historical reality (161-2).

Sobrino writes in Companions of Jesus: The Jesuit Martyrs of El Salvador: 

“From St. Ignatius we used to recall the great moments in the Exercises: The contemplation of the incarnation, to enable us to see the real world with God’s own eyes – that is, a world going down to hell – and to react with God’s own compassion, that is, ‘to work redemption.’ And it is important to remember this because, as for many other Salvadorans, it was not anger . . . or revenge, much less hatred that was the motive force in their [the Salvadoran martyrs] lives, but love: ‘working redemption,’ as St. Ignatius called it” (18).

On this first Sunday in Lent, we invite you to consider some of the dark moments in recent past – be it the crisis in Occupied Palestine, or something else – and pray that you might be able to see the real world “with God’s own eyes,” and consider what is required of you to “react with God’s own compassion, that is, ‘to work redemption’” within this world. In other words, how do you “keep awake?”

A Community

Churchwomen Martyred in El Salvador

December 2nd marks the anniversary of when, in 1980, Maryknoll Sisters Maura Clarke and Ita Ford, Ursuline Sister Dorothy Kazel, and Cleveland Lay Missionary Jean Donovan were raped and murdered by the U.S.-backed Salvadoran military, in the early days of that country’s brutal civil war. 

The women had gone to El Salvador in response to a request from Archbishop Oscar Romero (martyred, 1980; canonized, 2018) for missionaries. Clarke and Ford worked in Chalatenango, where the military committed over 50 massacres against the village’s poor. The women were “awake” to the needs of others and worked in practical ways to assist them, organizing the transportation of food, medicine, and wounded people. They were laboring to usher a new way of life – a “new age”, to use apocalyptic terms – in the context of war and “anti-kingdom” conditions. They also knew, as Ford said the night before she was murdered, that “one who is committed to the poor must risk the same fate as the poor.” 

U.S. Officials blamed the women for their own deaths, suggesting they had put themselves in harm’s way. Official accounts of their deaths failed to acknowledge that they were raped and shot execution style. Their deaths helped galvanize opposition within churches to the United States’s support for the Salvadoran government’s repression of its own people. The war did not end, however, until 1992, and cost more than 75,000 lives.

Bishop Oswaldo Escobar of Chalatenango said of the women, “[N]ot only did they show solidarity with the poor, they suffered the same fate as the poor, the thousands of murdered catechists, delegates of the Word, at the hands of a bloody repression.” Unlike Oscar Romero, the women were never officially canonized, but according to Father Manuel Acosta of Chalatenango, “Our people [the Salvadorians] have already canonized them.” 


“Patro Nia”

“Patro Nia” is originally a Brazilian song, the Portuguese text of which was shared anonymously throughout Central and South America during the 1980s, in the wake of Oscar Romero’s death, and the death of the Maryknoll martyrs. It became a popular song among the “base communities” of liberation theology. 

The lyrics appropriately express the faith and political ethic of the Salvadoran Martyrs. They also appropriately express a feeling of yearning, waiting, and hoping for, in the words of Jon Sobrino, “the power of God to remake an unjust world and to do justice to its victims.”

It can be heard here:

Lyrics from: 

Patro, Ho Patro nia!
Father! Oh, Our Father!

1. Ho, Patro, kiom dure, la popolon / per subpremado vidi krucumata!
Oh father, will the world once belong to the poor, our brothers and sisters?
Oh father, how hard it is to see the folk crucified through oppression!

2. Ho, Patro, kiu viŝos for la larmojn / de l’ homoj kiuj sen pano?
Ho, Patro, kiu kun favor’ satigos / la malriĉulojn per libereco?
Oh father, who will wipe off the tears of the people without bread?
Oh father, who will gracefully satisfy the poor with freedom?

3. Ho, Patro de vundata Ameriko / Ve! Kiom da aflikta vivo!
Ho, Patro, kiam venos libereco / al la popoloj de tiuj nacioj?
Oh, father of the wounded America, alas! How much grief!
Oh father, when will freedom come to the peoples of these nations?

4. Ho, Patro, la rompita kor’ de nia / popol’ senŝarĝiĝon deziras!
Ho, Patro, la espero de nuntempo / estas disdono kaj egaleco.
Oh father, the broken heart of our folk desires relief!
Oh father, the hope of our time is repartition and equality.

5. Ho, Patro, ĉu la tero estos iam / de l’ povra popolamaso?
Ho, Patro, ĉu la mondo estos nia, / de la povruloj, sen subpremado?
Oh father, will the earth once belong to the poor masses?
Oh father, will the world once be ours, of the poor, without oppression.