Lectionary Reflection: First Sunday of Advent, year B

Lectionary Readings: Is 63:16b-17; 64.1, 3-8 / Ps 80 / 1Cor 1:3-9 / Mk 13:33-37

Have you ever been to a pottery workshop before? I remember just over a year ago going to Studio-on-the-Hill with some members of Vietnamese Martyrs Parish’s Youth and Young Adults Ministries (YaYA Toronto). This was for a one-day retreat in which the name chosen for it was, “Journey to the Heart.” Strange enough, when you hear of the term “retreat,” you often think of having it at a church, a shrine, or retreat centre. Yet, a pottery studio? Honestly, I was a bit skeptical about it. However, the more time I spent on designing the “Retreatant’s Booklet”, coming across many images of the potter’s hand, the fragility of pottery, the more I came to appreciate the unique setting of the retreat.

I was reminded of the wonderful moments from that retreat upon encountering today’s Lectionary readings for the First Sunday of Advent, year B. The first reading from the book of the prophet Isaiah (whom we will hear from very often in the next four weeks) closes with the image of the potter and the clay:

Yet, O Lord, you are our Father;
We are the clay, and you are our potter;
We are all the work of your hand.

(Is 63:8)

What a beautiful image. Take time to let that sink in. What does it mean to say that God is the potter and we are the clay? Clay is something so ordinary – it comes in slabs of plain colour and cold on the hands. However, when the clay is put into the hands of the potter, it is patiently shaped through the creativity of the potter’s hands. Those who have worked with clay would know that when the clay is wet, you can change your mind and start over again. After hours of patience, your clay is turned into something unique and beautiful. 

“We are the clay.” From the beginning, we were made of something so ordinary, from the dust. However, with the dust of the earth, God made man in His image (cf. Gen 1:26–28). Yet, God does not end there. Those whom God created, He continues to mold them and care for them in His Fatherly love, even when “we sinned,” when “we have all become like one who is unclean.” (Is 63:5-6) That is the God whom we worship – the God who continues to mold us. The thing though, are we open to have God the pottery shape us and mold us? God the potter never forces the clay into a particular shape if it is not willing to. We must be open to let God mold us over and over again. We may question if God the potter is ever tired of doing so – but the answer is ‘no’, God is never tires of doing so because He is a merciful God, and in the words of Pope Francis, “[God] does not tire of forgiving. We are the ones who tire in asking for forgiveness, but He does not tire.” All we have to do is be open to being molded in the hands of God the potter and we do so in the Psalm as we say, “Lord, make us turn to you; let us see your face and we shall be saved.” (cf. Ps 80) 

More importantly though, the image of the potter and clay should humble us and allow us to realize who we are in front of God. We are, what St. Paul says, “clay jars.” (cf. 2Cor 4) We always need to remember that because when we have the mindset that we are our own gods, then we see in it the rise of relativism – we become the potter and shape the ideologies and even moralities in the world that we live in, thus the rise of support for abortion, euthanasia, “my body, my choice.” Whatever we receive in these earthen vessels are only temporarily. We may face trials and tribulations in this life, but St. Paul assures us today in the second reading that, “[God] will strengthen you to the end.” (1Cor 1:8, emphasis added) With that, we must always look to holiness – that is at the end of the day our primary vocation from the day of our baptism. 

The call to holiness is implicitly mentioned in the Gospel of every First Sunday of Advent in its variations in Matthew, Mark and Luke. That call to stay awake is really the starting pistol to holiness. That wanting to stay awake to truly be in the grace of God, is a thirst for holiness. We will never know the day of the Lord’s calling, thus in Mark’s Gospel today, Jesus reminds us, “Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come.” (Mk 13:33) What does that mean? That means we must always be in a state of grace, open to whenever God calls us back to Himself, like the clay awaiting the day it is brought to the kiln. In order to do this, we must fix our gaze to God always because it is only in God that we can seek perfection. We cannot dwell on earthly things, because “Heaven and earth will pass away but my words will not pass away,” Jesus says. That is why we come to the altar of the Word and Sacrament at every Mass and we should thirst for it because those are the things that bring us eternal salvation. The latest fashion trends, the latest iPhone… too much concern on those things to the point where we are concerned about them more than God turns it into a problem because then, we let those materialistic things become our potter. 

Ever since Bl. Carlo Acutis’ beatification, I have had the life of this young man close to my spiritual life because he knew, from a young age how to let God be the pottery and himself be the clay. He said, “I’m happy to die because I’ve lived my life without wasting even a minute of it doing things that wouldn’t have pleased God.” He was able to live this life while maintaining his passion for computers, making funny videos and just being the typical teenager. We should thirst for Jesus like Carlo did. He placed Jesus at the centre of his life, through partaking in daily Mass, recitation of the rosary, and bringing that Eucharistic spirit into his daily life as he helped the poor around him, the student struggling emotionally in the class, the bullied, and even the porter of his apartment. This touches me, and I hope it is for you because in Carlo and so many models of holiness in the Blesseds and Saints, we come to see how we are to be awake, and truly live as vessels made by the wonderful hand of almighty God. 

“O Lord, you are our Father; We are the clay, and you are our potter; We are all the work of your hand.” Amen.

About Vincent Pham

Vincent is a humanities student of the University of Toronto’s Trinity College of the Faculty of Arts and Science. He hopes to pursue a double major in Ethics, Law and Society, and Philosophy.
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