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Reflection on the Readings for the 2nd Sunday of Advent 2021

Bill Fehlner, Associate

Baruch 5:1-9 

Psalm 146:1-6 

Philippians 1:4-6,8-11 

Luke 3:1-6 

I doubt there ever was an easy time to live. But as I am buffeted by many present threats to life such as COVID-19 that many try to wish away, climate change that has been downplayed for forty years or more, and ever more violent backlash against attempts to begin to dismantle the caste system in North America, I find it difficult not to despair. Nonetheless, the readings for the second Sunday of Advent give me cause for hope.

This is a practical hope, for each reading, in different ways, guides me towards the practice of discernment. Discernment is essentially the ability to separate what’s important from what’s irrelevant or misleading. This is what we are encouraged to do in Psalm 146, where we are warned “Do not put your trust in men in power, or in any mortal man – he cannot save”. Or, in the words of Nan Merrill, “Put not your trust in riches, in illusionary things that fade away”. So what is the alternative?

Discernment is the wisdom that enables me to distinguish between feelings, ideas, and motives that are from the Holy Spirit and those that aren’t. This provides a concrete way to respond to Paul’s prayer in the reading from Philippians “that you never stop improving your knowledge and deepening your perception so that you can always recognize what is best.”

In Baruch, we hear that “God will guide Israel in joy by the light of his glory with his mercy and integrity for escort.” I begin to regain my confidence with the imagery of “filling of the valleys to make the ground level so that Israel can walk in safety.” This is an echo of the quotation from Isaiah that concludes the Gospel reading from Luke “Every valley will be filled in, every mountain will be laid low.” The practice of discernment is a way to use the highs of consolation and the lows of desolation to discover over time the great desires that God has placed in my heart. This is a process. My job (and our job) isn’t to simply follow a set of divine instructions but rather to grow closer to a God who loves me (us) and desires to be my (our) friend.

A clear, concise introduction to the practice of Ignatian discernment is the book “What Do You Really Want?” by Jim Manney. I have found it quite helpful; perhaps you might also find it a way to smooth the path a bit.

Baruch 5:1-9
Psalm 146:1-6
Philippians 1:4-6,8-11
Luke 3:1-6

 

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