St. John of Damascus

Catholics remember and celebrate the life of the great Arab Church Father St. John of Damascus on Dec. 4.

Eastern Orthodox Christians and Eastern Catholics, whose tradition has been particularly shaped by his insights, celebrate the saint's feast on the same day as the Roman Catholic Church.

Among Eastern Christians, St. John (676-749) is best known for his defense of Christian sacred art, particularly in the form of icons. While the churches of Rome and Constantinople were still united during St. John's life, the Byzantine Emperor Leo III broke radically from the ancient tradition of the church, charging that the veneration of Christian icons was a form of idolatry.

John had grown up under Muslim rule in Damascus, as the child of strongly Christian parents. His excellent education – particularly in theology – prepared him well to defend the tradition of sacred iconography, against the heresy of the “iconoclasts,” so-called because they would enter churches and destroy the images therein.

During the 720s, the upstart theologian began publicly opposing the emperor's command against sacred images in a series of writings. The heart of his argument was twofold: first, that Christians did not actually worship images,  but rather, through them they worshiped God, and honored the memory of the saints. Second, he asserted that by taking an incarnate physical form, Christ had given warrant to the Church's depiction of him in images.

By 730, the young public official's persistent defense of Christian artwork had made him a permanent enemy of the emperor, who had a letter forged in John's name offering to betray the Muslim government of Damascus.

The ruling caliph of the city, taken in by the forgery, is said to have cut off John's hand. The saint's sole surviving biography states that the Virgin Mary acted to restore it miraculously. John eventually managed to convince the Muslim ruler of his innocence, before making the decision to become a monk and later a priest.

Although a number of imperially-convened synods condemned John's advocacy of Christian iconography, the Roman church always regarded his position as a defense of apostolic tradition. Years after the priest and monk died, the Seventh Ecumenical Council vindicated his orthodoxy, and ensured the permanent place of holy images in both Eastern and Western Christian piety.

St. John of Damascus' other notable achievements include the “Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith,” a work in which he systematized the earlier Greek Fathers' thinking about theological truths in light of philosophy. The work exerted a profound influence on St. Thomas Aquinas and subsequent scholastic theologians. Centuries later, St. John's sermons on the Virgin Mary's bodily assumption into heaven were cited in Pope Pius XII's dogmatic definition on the subject.

The saint also contributed as an author and editor, to some of the liturgical hymns and poetry that Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholics still use in their celebrations of the liturgy.

“Show me the icons that you venerate, that I may be able to understand your faith.” - Saint John of Damascus


Isaiah 11:1-10

1 There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
2 And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.
3 And his delight shall be in the fear of the LORD. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear;
4 but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall slay the wicked.
5 Righteousness shall be the girdle of his waist, and faithfulness the girdle of his loins.
6 The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.
7 The cow and the bear shall feed; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
8 The sucking child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder's den.
9 They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.
10 In that day the root of Jesse shall stand as an ensign to the peoples; him shall the nations seek, and his dwellings shall be glorious.


Matthew 3:1-12

1 In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judea,
2 "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."
3 For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, "The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight."
4 Now John wore a garment of camel's hair, and a leather girdle around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey.
5 Then went out to him Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan,
6 and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sad'ducees coming for baptism, he said to them, "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?
8 Bear fruit that befits repentance,
9 and do not presume to say to yourselves, `We have Abraham as our father'; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.
10 Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
11 "I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.
12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the granary, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire."


Psalms 72:1, 7-8, 12-13, 17

0 A Psalm of Solomon.
6 May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass, like showers that water the earth!
7 In his days may righteousness flourish, and peace abound, till the moon be no more!
11 May all kings fall down before him, all nations serve him!
12 For he delivers the needy when he calls, the poor and him who has no helper.
16 May there be abundance of grain in the land; on the tops of the mountains may it wave; may its fruit be like Lebanon; and may men blossom forth from the cities like the grass of the field!


Second Reading

Romans 15:4-9

4 For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope.
5 May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus,
6 that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
7 Welcome one another, therefore, as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.
8 For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God's truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs,
9 and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written, "Therefore I will praise thee among the Gentiles, and sing to thy name";


Lord, may I have a change of mind and heart

Sunday December 4 2022
2nd Sunday of Advent (A) 
Is 11:1-10;  Ps. 71:1-2,7-8,12-13,17;
Rom 15:4-9;  Mt 3:1-12  (Ps. Wk. II)


Isaiah expressed the yearning of all human hearts – a peaceful and fruitful world governed with wisdom, justice, and compassion. Humans would no longer be at war with one another and with nature.

The world would be a place of harmony, peace, and abundance. Isaiah prophesied that one individual would bring this about – the Messiah of God, born from the lineage of David. This hope sustained the people for many years, and Christians profess that Jesus was the one promised in the prophecy.

We should not lose heart at the darkness of our world – the Light of Christ will continue to shine in the darkness, and we can be part of it.

John the Baptist prophesied the coming of this Messiah, and he saw it as a frightening time of cleansing. He urged people to change their hearts and minds and be in harmony with God. This was the only way that they would be able to receive the fire of the Holy Spirit that would soon be given.

We live in a dark and challenging age today, and it is important that we turn towards the Lord as individuals and as a people. As always, God is there to help. The paradise described by Isaiah is to be found deep in our hearts.

Lord, may I have a change of mind and heart.