07 Dec 2023 – Thursday of Advent, Week 1

07 Dec 2023 – Thursday of Advent, Week 1

Memorial: St Ambrose, 339-97, patron of Milan, beekeepers and domestic animals.

1st Reading: Isaiah 26:1-6

A hymn of confidence in the Lord God, our everlasting rock

On that day this song will be sung in the land of Judah: We have a strong city; he sets up victory like walls and bulwarks. Open the gates, so that the righteous nation that keeps faith may enter in. Those of steadfast mind you keep in peace — in peace because they trust in you.

Trust in the Lord forever, for in the Lord God you have an everlasting rock. For he has brought low the inhabitants of the height; the lofty city he lays low. He lays it low to the ground, casts it to the dust. The foot tramples it, the feet of the poor, the steps of the needy.

Responsorial: Psalm 117: 1, 8-9, 19-21, 25-27

R./: Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.

Give thanks to the Lord for he is good
for his love has no end.
It is better to take refuge in the Lord
than to trust in men.
It is better to take refuge in the Lord
than to trust in princes. (R./)

Open to me the gates of holiness:
I will enter and give thanks.
This is the Lord’s own gate
where the just may enter
I will thank you for you have given answer
and you are my saviour. (R./)

O Lord, grant us salvation;
O Lord, grant success.
Blessed in the name of the Lord
is he who comes.
We bless you from the house of the Lord;
the Lord God is our light. (R./)

Gospel: Matthew 7:21, 24-27

Conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount: A wise man builds his house on rock

And Jesus said to them, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell — and great was its fall!”


A mighty fortress

Today’s readings make a thought-provoking contrast. In Isaiah it is God who builds our city, setting up its walls and ramparts to protect it; in the Gospel it is we who build our own house solidly, setting it on rock. While Isaiah summons into the new city all who trust in the Lord, Matthew has Jesus promise salvation to the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.  The prophetic text emphasises faith while the Gospel stresses action! There is a line in the passage from Isaiah to harmonise these divergent views : “Our Lord is an eternal rock.”

Trusting in the Lord is a major part of Isaiah’s spirituality. Today he says: Trust in the Lord forever! For the Lord is an eternal rock. The Lord will surround us who have faith as he does the holy city with “walls and ramparts. ” And the Lord himself is that city. He is the rock which sustains us. He is the Holy One, enshrined within us. There is a clash of images here! It means that the Lord is behind and before us, around about us and within us, supporting us from beneath, glorifying us from above.

How to storm-proof ourselves

We can identify with the weather image that Jesus uses in today’s gospel, “Rains came down, floods rose, gales blew.” Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Apart from weather storms, we can also be struck by storms of a different kind no matter where in the world we live. The church has been through quite a storm in recent years, and the effects are still felt. As individuals, we can find ourselves battling against the elements of life, as we struggle in one shape or form, for one reason or another.

Jesus warns that all of us will at some time face the storms of life, and he wants to help us survive them. When the storms come will we find ourselves tossed about helplessly, or will we be able to withstand the storm and move through and beyond it? Jesus wants to be our rock when the storm comes. If we listen to his words and try to act on those words we will remain standing even when storms break around us. Jesus brings us back to basics, the doing of God’s will as he has revealed it for us. If we keep on returning to that focal point, the Lord will see to it that we endure, regardless of the strength of the storm.



  1. Sean O’Conaill says:

    If ever there was a house built on sand it was Christendom – the church’s long reliance upon the states of Europe. Ruled primarily always by the covetousness of their rulers, they necessarily imposed a blinding of the church’s eye to covetousness itself, and eventually a hopelessly blinkered notion of God the Father.

    For the early church the Father who had freed them from fear of Rome by overturning the verdict of crucifixion of Jesus became something different in the High Middle Ages – a legalist demanding satisfaction for sin – understood primarily as defiance of the 6th commandment.

    Those breaches of commandments 9 and 10 committed freely by competing princes had to be overlooked, culminating in the world wars of the 20th century and the collapse of Christendom.

    Now a far more secure house needs building, recognising the warning against covetousness as the only key to a sustainable lifestyle and a sustainable peace. It is not too late to heed the call to a life founded on the simplicity and compassion of Jesus – but it is very late indeed.

  2. Joe O'Leary says:

    Sean, I fear the baby is being thrown out with the bathwater. Compare Mozart — his reliance on princes or prince-archbishops — does it render his music worthless? Well, the centuries of Christendom produced many saints and doctors, poets and architects who were the equivalent of Mozart. They emerged within a richly varied human world which awaits our rediscovery.

    I have a book on my knees just now that I have never read: R. W. Southern, Saint Anselm: A Portrait in a Landscape (Cambridge UP, 1990). “A legalist demanding satisfaction for sin – understood primarily as defiance of the 6th commandment” is hardly fair to one of his great texts, the Cur Deus Homo. When he says “divine honour” he means cosmic order (in which honour was a key principle in that feudal culture). He gets away from older theories of the Devil’s rights and answers afresh the question that Athanasius discussed in his De Incarnatione, facing “the Jewish criticism that Christianity unnecessarily exposed God to the pain and indignities of human life”; “the gross indignities offered to God in Christ could only be justified if they were necessary for the rectification of the universe under the will of God” (p. 212). Many critics of (a mostly imaginary) Anselm today are really rejecting the proposition that “Christ died for our sins.” Anselm dares to ask for a rational account of why this should be so, and he comes up with a deep meditation on the harmony of justice and mercy within divine providence. something much more wide-reaching and intelligent than “a legalist demanding satisfaction for sin – understood primarily as defiance of the 6th commandment.” If we had time to study this great thinker and attempt to think along with him, I have no doubt that we would find many things to edify, enlighten, or at least stimulate.

  3. Sean O'Conaill says:

    What ‘baby’, Joe?

    As for the divine Mozart and his benefitting from church patronage, did you know that he was once kicked downstairs by the servants of the Archbishop of Salzburg? (See e.g.:


    Many thanks for that quote from Athanasius. That greatly helps to fill the gap between Ignatius of Antioch and Anselm of Canterbury – helping to explain how the latter came to remake the Father of the Prodigal Son in the image of the most exalted monarchs of Christendom.

    All nostalgia for the Middle Ages is founded upon the vain supposition that if born in that era we ourselves would not most likely have been born into serfdom – and then used as cannon fodder when that military option became available.

    As to ‘Cosmic Honour’, have you never asked yourself about the strange recurrence of social pyramids of dignity in all historical eras – including our own? Always, always, always these arise from what Alain de Botton calls our ‘status anxiety’ – our uncertainty about our own value and the overweening need that some then have for others to recognise their own superiority. This is the driving force of all imperialism from Alexander through Julius Caesar to Napoleon – whose career in itself explains the sudden and tragic failure of ‘liberty, equality and fraternity’.

    This is a constant in all eras – the self-conscious dimension of honour and shame that explains even Jeff Bezos’ need for not one but two superyachts (because he cannot land his helicopter on the larger masted one)! Until our bishops see this they won’t even be able to get to grips with clericalism, which is simply clerical status anxiety, the root also of their own continuing non-transparency.

    But maybe what follows is the ‘Baby’ I am throwing out – St Anselm’s response in ‘Cur Deus Homo’ to the possible charge that a Father God who needs satisfaction for Sin is a contradiction to Jesus’ teachings on forgiveness?

    (To explain, ‘Boso’ in what follows is Anselm’s interlocutor in a hypothetical theological dialogue.)

    Anselm: But it is not fitting for God to pass over anything in his kingdom without dealing with it.

    Boso: I cannot disagree without the risk of sin.

    Anselm: It is therefore not proper for God to pass over sin unpunished.

    Boso: That follows.

    Anselm: There is also another thing which follows if sin is passed by unpunished, — that with God there will be no difference between the guilty and the not guilty. That would be inappropriate for God.

    Boso: I cannot deny it. But God commands us always to forgive those who sin against us. It seems inconsistent to tell us to do something it’s not proper for him to do himself.

    Anselm: It is not inconsistent for God to forbid us to do what only he should do. To take revenge belongs to none but the Lord of all….

    You can see there, I hope, how Anselm’s ‘take’ on atonement could devolve into the theory of ‘penal substitution’ – that Jesus substituted himself to avert the vengeful blow that must fall upon ourselves. How in the end can Anselm’s theology be freed from the implication that the crucifixion was the expression of the divine vengeance that Anselm himself actually justifies?

    With the world still held fast in the grip of human status anxiety (e.g. Vlad Putin and the West; Trump and ‘liberal elites’; Steve Bannon et al and ‘Replacement theory’) it is the perception that in all eras that the Trinity are bent upon freeing us from this that we need. That is what those earlier understandings of the crucifixion can restore for us.

    In short, if status anxiety has always been our biggest problem – especially the fear of the negative judgement of our own society – does it not make sense that the Trinity would set out to free us from it by showing us the limits of the power of any society to shame anyone? How could Ignatius have faced that rending in the Colosseum with Anselm’s understanding of the death of Jesus?

    That is my core reason for reciting, and believing the Creed. It is in essence a counter-narrative to the story of the Caesars – whose power rested in the end upon crucifixion – and the greatest superhero story ever told. The Father too has always been our ‘redeemer’ – the father of the prodigal son that Jesus came to take us to.

    Once in Würtsburg – in what had been the ‘palace’ of the archbishop there – I was told to take off my sun hat, as though wearing it was disrespectful to the religious associations of the building. You will forgive me if I snigger in disbelief at that residue of medievalism.

    Wasn’t the original St Francis sent to free us from all of that nonsense, via other Franciscans – e.g. Duns Scotus and Bonaventure?

  4. Paddy Ferry says:

    Seán @1, what an interesting observation.

    “It is not too late to heed the call to a life founded on the simplicity and compassion of Jesus – but it is very late indeed.”

    Now, this is something we can completely agree on. If they had left it at that –the simplicity and compassion of Jesus — all would have been well. It is all the add ons over the millennia that has — among other things — so undermined confidence in our church’s teaching.

  5. Joe O'Leary says:

    There is much evil and injustice in the world, yet the idea of cosmic order, or of divine providence, remains part of our faith.

    Athanasius De Incarnatione Verbi is a theological gem, probably written when he was exiled by Constantine to Trier around 336 AD — another Mozart kicked down the stairs.

    “On the Incarnation of the Word is a classic work of Orthodox theology written by noted bishop of Alexandria, St. Athanasius. In this apologetic treatise, St. Athanasius defends the incarnation of Christ against the derision of 4th century non-believers. St Athanasius explains why God chose to approach his fallen people in human form. He states, “The death of all was consummated in the Lord’s body; yet, because the Word was in it, death and corruption were in the same act utterly abolished.” St. Athanasius resolves the paradox of the Incarnate by relying heavily on both Scripture and the teachings of the early Church. St. Athanasius also answers several objections to his account, many of which are still raised against Christians today by those outside the Church. On the Incarnation of the Word was highly recommended by modern writer and Christian apologist, C.S. Lewis, who suggested that contemporary Christian audiences could benefit from reading more ancient classics. Indeed, though St. Athanasius wrote this text in the 4th century, his style is easy to follow and his concepts are of irreplaceable worth.”


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