Saint Damasus, pope.
Damasus (305-384), from Egitania, Portugal, was bishop of Rome from 366 to 384. He had earlier served as deacon at the Basilica of Saint Lawrence outside the Walls, and became pope following the death of Pope Liberius. He was a strong opponent of Arianism and presided over the Council of Rome (382), which fixed the canon of Scripture. He encouraged Saint Jerome in his Vulgate translation of the Bible, and did much to encourage the veneration of the Christian martyrs, creating access to their tombs in the Catacombs of Rome and marking them with inscriptions, many composed by himself.
1st Reading: Isaiah 48:17-19
If you heeded my commandments, your name would last forever
Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: I am the Lord your God, who teaches you for your own good, who leads you in the way you should go. O that you had paid attention to my commandments! Then your prosperity would have been like a river, and your success like the waves of the sea; your offspring would have been like the sand, and your descendants like its grains; their name would never be cut off or destroyed from before me.
Gospel: Matthew 11:16-19
Jesus blames his generation who listened neither to John the Baptist nor to himself.
Jesus said to his disciples, “To what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.’ For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.”
Variety of charisms
Each person tends to opt for one lifestyle among various possibilities, since God created each of us with a distinctive personality, special preferences, individualized vocations. Because we tend to become overly specialized with strong likes and dislikes, we badly need others to complement what we are lacking. St. Paul even went so far as to say that each of us must fill up what is lacking in the body of Christ! Yet we tend to resist this advice; we do not want to admit our weaknesses. We even become defensive and then aggressive if others detect our inability to perform or control.
This ability to fill in what is missing in any of us is suggested by Jesus’ words. He quoted a proverb to the effect that we need joyful people who readily dance and compassionate people who readily sympathize. Yet every initiative can be spurned and ridiculed: “We piped you a tune but you did not dance! We sang you a dirge but you did not wail!” Jesus was leading up to this punchline: John the Baptist was seen neither eating nor drinking, and people say, “He is mad!” The Son of Man was seen eating and drinking, and they say, “He is a glutton and a drunkard, a lover of tax collectors and those outside the law!” Many practical conclusions can be drawn from these words, but most of all he is pleading with us to give the other person a chance. We must not judge harshly nor condemn too quickly. Others have every right to that which God provides so plentifully and so freely, namely time.
If we remain united in love, we will be long in patience and slow with judgment. We will persevere through all difficulties and give everyone the necessary time and space to grow and to make his contribution. We will feel a serious need for the help and contribution of others, all the more as we develop our own specialized talents. Only through others will we be truly balanced and integral in our values and attitude.
Dances and dirges
Jesus was a keen observer of people of all ages. He often spoke about his own ministry and the kingdom of God using practical images drawn from day to day life. The gospel says we find him drawing on his observation of children at play in the market square. Sometimes their games reflect the joy of life. Some pretend to play pipes while other children dance to the music. At other times their games reflect the sorrows of life. Some children would sing dirges while others would mourn and wail in response. Jesus noticed how some children refused to join in any game; they wouldn’t dance when the pipes were played and they wouldn’t be mourners when dirges were sung. These unresponsive children remind Jesus of some adults round about him; they would neither mourn in response to the grim message of John the Baptist nor dance in response to the joyful message of Jesus. They dismissed John as possessed and Jesus as a glutton and a drunkard. It is interesting how Jesus identifies his own ministry with the piper and the dance. His life and his message are good news, the good news of God’s love for us all; he plays a joyful tune. We are called to move in unison with the music of Jesus, the music of his Spirit in our lives. We try to attune ourselves to the Lord’s rhythm and melody and allow it to shape all that we say and do. That is our Advent calling in preparation for our celebration of the birth of Jesus.