THE ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH

Her Doctrine and Morals

Second Sunday in Advent

4 December 2016

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Dear Friend,

In our spiritual development, we often find that our instructors will send us on an investigation, even though they already know and understand what we are to learn. As students we often are frustrated. "If you already knew this, why did you have me do all this work?" It is often the case, that the only way we truly understand something, is through first had experience. Hearing the truth spoken from a lectern does not always make the same impression upon us as does self-discovery. This was the case with the disciples of St. John the Baptist in today's gospel.

St. John was in prison for denouncing the incestuous and adulterous union of Herod. His disciples were imagining or hoping that St. John was the Messiah. As much as St. John would humbly correct them, they all the more were convinced that he was the One. Hearing the truth was not enough for these. It was for their benefit, not St. John's, that they were sent to ask of Jesus, if He was the One. Jesus knew of St. John's love for these men and what St. John had in mind when he sent them to Him. So we see that Jesus does not just answer their question with: "Yes, I am the One." He shows them through the good works that He does. In this manner, St. John's disciples learn first hand that Jesus Christ is the Messiah, the Savior of mankind.

We are often faced with the same dilemma as St. John's disciples, we hear the truth spoken but, yet, we do not believe; we are not moved and transformed by the Truth. The defined dogmatic decrees of the Church often appear to us as dry or meaningless verbiage. It is not until we begin to study and investigate that the veils of our hearts and minds are lifted and we understand. The true understanding of things can only be rightly understood when we approach Jesus for instruction. St. Thomas Aquinas, and St. Bonaventure, both attributed their understanding and wisdom, to the fact that they spent many hours contemplating Christ crucified. Kneeling before a crucifix; meditating upon Christ suffering and dying upon the cross; opened their hearts and minds to some of the most beautiful and amazing truths, that we now have safely preserved in dogmatic decrees of the Church. If we are to see and understand, as they did, it is not enough to read the works of these great saints — we must do what they did. We need to go to Jesus to learn. We must put our questions to Him. Most often, we do not hear Him speak directly to us, but we contemplate what He did. In His words and actions, we see and understand — just as the disciples of St. John did.

After St. John's disciples were departed, Jesus begins to instruct the others concerning St. John. He was not a reed shaken by the wind, but was more than a prophet because he announced directly the Savior of mankind. He was not the Messiah, but he was more than a prophet. We often find a particular saint or devotion, and just as St. John's disciples, we tend to think that this is the one — this is the answer. We turn to Christ and learn that this or that saint, or this or that devotion is not God, but are actually meant to lead us to Him. While the devotions are good, they are only good for us to the extent that they draw us closer to Christ. They are sending us to learn of Jesus, just as St. John sent his disciples to learn of Him. Then, Jesus instructs us that the saints and devotions given to us through the Church are not, therefore, useless or unimportant (they are not reeds shaken by the wind). The saints and the devotions promoted by the Church are prophets and even more than the prophets (as St. John was) because they announce to us and point out to us Jesus our Savior.

As we honor the saints, and we keep religious practices of prayers, sacrifices, novenas, etc. we are not replacing Jesus with these saints and devotions; these things are all like St. John (not the Messiah, but more than the prophets). We must not attempt to force these practices into becoming our gods as this would be idolatry. These things, like St. John, must decrease and Christ must increase. Though they must decrease, we must never despise them or think of them as nothing, they are great to the extent that we are brought closer to Christ.

When we read of the lives of the saints, or we make the prayers of various devotions our own, let us go to Jesus so that we may truly understand. He will show us that He is the One, and help us to truly understand and believe; and He will show us the true value of all the spiritual aids He has given to us in the Church.

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