17 December 2005

Homily - 18 December 2005

Many may be surprised today to hear the Gospel account of the Annunciation. It is the story that we have heard frequently in the past few weeks and rightly so. While Advent calls us to anticipate and to prepare for the second coming of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King when he will gather the nations to himself and judge all peoples, Advent also calls us to look back to Bethlehem and to see the birth of Christ the Lord. How fitting it is, then, that today, just one week before we celebrate the Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord that we hear the Archangel Gabriel say to Mary, “The Holy Spirit will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God” (Luke 1:35).

In this last week of Advent, the Scripture readings invite us to be more passive with the Lord, to allow the Lord to prepare our hearts for his coming, to allow him to shape us and mold us and fashion us. Such passivity, though, is very difficult because it requires that we abandon ourselves and surrender to the workings of the Holy Spirit. We can longer seek to control and direct our lives, but must humbly turn to the Lord and follow his lead.

David, in the reading from the Second Book of Samuel, and Mary, from the Gospel of Luke, represent for us two possible ways to approach this last week of Advent, one beneficial and the other not.

King David, the second of the kings of Israel and the greatest of the kings, as well, looks around at his surroundings and sees how very far he has come through the will of the Lord. David was anointed by Samuel to be the King while he was just a lowly shepherd, a handsome young man, but otherwise seemingly lacking in any qualities or characteristics that would suit him as King. But there was one quality that David possessed that was not readily apparent: he had a deep love of the Lord.

It was this love of the Lord that helped David to write a great many of the Psalms. It was this love that allowed David to put his trust in the Lord and this same love allowed him to repent and to ask the Lord for forgiveness and mercy when he sinned, and he sinned greatly. David was a great sinner, but he was also a holy King, because he always tried to do as the Lord asked of him and he always repented of his sins. We would all do well to follow his example.

As David surveyed his kingdom he cried out to the prophet Nathan, “Here I am living in a house of cedar, while the ark of God dwells in a tent!” (II Samuel 7:2). Believing this to be a disgrace to the Lord, David decided to build a worthy and fitting temple for him in which to dwell and to house the Ark of the Covenant. But the Lord had other plans and sent Nathan to him, saying, “Should you build me a house to dwell in?” (II Samuel 7:5). It is as if the Lord shows David how ridiculous his idea is. The Lord goes on to say:

It was I who took you from the pasture and from the care of the flock to be commander of my people Israel. I have been with you wherever you went, and I have destroyed all your enemies before you. I will fix a place for my people Israel; I will plant them so that they may dwell in their place without further disturbance” (II Samuel 7:8-10).

When David begins to think that he has accomplished all of his great victories and feats through his own talent and accord, the Lord reminds him that the Lord himself has done all of these things for him; David has done nothing, the Lord has done it all. How, then, could David possibly hope to build a house for the Holy One of Israel?

Like, David, Mary, too, wanted to prepare a house for the Lord, but unlike David, Mary sought to prepare a dwelling for the Lord not physically and externally, but spiritually and internally. Whereas David desired to build a house for the Lord out of wood and stones, Mary desired to build a house for the Lord out of her heart and soul.

Even when Gabriel announced to her the startling and bizarre message, “Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus,” Mary still wished to carry out her desire (Luke 1:31). But through Mary, the word of the Lord spoken through Nathan would be fulfilled, “I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me” (II Samuel 7:14). Mary would come to realize that when she wanted to allow the Lord to dwell within her spiritually, the Lord would now come to dwell within her physically. What greater marvel could there be? The Creator of all things would be born of his humble creature. At this great message, Mary humbly said to the angel, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).

Mary allowed herself to be overshadowed by the Holy Spirit and submitted entirely to the will of God and allowed God to prepare within her a most worthy and fitting temple in which he would dwell. May this be the desire and longing of each of our hearts in this last week of Advent. May we take Mary as our model and follow her loving example.

With her fiat, her yes, to the will of the Lord, Mary abandoned her own will and embraced the will of God for her life and by doing so she gave birth to the Savior and Redeemer of all Creation. Mary allowed the Lord to build his house within her, just as he wishes to do with of us.

The Lord desires to fill each of us with his presence, with his love, with his peace, and with his joy. He will never force us to welcome him but always invites us to welcome his presence, just as he invited Mary, through the words of Gabriel, to take a central place in the history of salvation.

When we, like David, attempt to prepare a dwelling for the Lord through our own initiative and through our own desires, the Lord will correct us as well. He calls us, like Mary, to be passive cooperators with him as he prepares us to receive him into our souls at Christmas and, indeed, every time we receive Holy Communion.

The Lord frequently comes to us and invites us to receive him; he asks us to be molded, shaped, and formed by him. He speaks to us in the depths of our hearts and invites us to cooperate with his grace to conform our lives more and more to that of his Divine Son, who was born of the Virgin Mary for our salvation.

In this last week of our preparations and waiting in joyful hope, may we be open to the workings and urgings of the Spirit and allow him to build a dwelling for the Most High within us. Let us rely entirely upon his love and mercy as we welcome him with great joy and happiness.

“To him who can strengthen you, according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery kept secret for long ages but now manifested through the prophetic writings and, according to the command of the eternal God, make known to all nations to bring about the obedience of faith, to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, be glory for ever and ever. Amen” (Romans 16:25-27).

11 December 2005

Homily - 11 December 2005

The Third Sunday of Advent (B)

Gaudéte in Dómino semper: íterum dico gaudéte. Dóminus enim prope est. That is, perhaps better in English: “Rejoice in the Lord always: again I say, rejoice! The Lord is near.”

Today is often called “Gaudéte Sunday;” gaudéte simply meaning, “rejoice.” Today is the day for great rejoicing. Today is the day to rejoice because the Lord is near indeed. With his coming so very near, we cannot – if we have faithfully kept watch for him these past two weeks – help but be filled with great joy.

We now begin our third week of waiting and watching with yearning hearts for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ the King because of the promise he has given to us; he will return in his glory for “the one who calls you is faithful, and he will also accomplish it” (I Thessalonians 5:24). Our time of preparation is at hand and is now half-completed; we have just two weeks more to wait for him who is near. With Isaiah we all can say,

I rejoice heartily in the LORD, in my God is the joy of my soul; for he has clothed me with a robe of salvation and wrapped me in a mantle of justice, like a bridegroom adorned with a diadem, like a bride bedecked with her jewels (Isaiah 61:10).

We have indeed been given the robe of salvation and the mantle of justice; for we, at our baptism, have been clothed with Christ Jesus have become a new creation. Now we wait and yearn for the coming of Christ, the Bridegroom, and long for the day that he will gather his Bride, the Church, into his kingdom when all things will be made new at the great wedding of heaven and earth.

They say, “absence makes the heart grow fonder.” Very often the common phrases that we throw around when we do not know what else to say do not make a great deal of sense or, in many cases, simply are not true. This cliché, “absence makes the heart grow fonder” is not too different from those others; it is true in a certain sense for those who desire to be united again with the one from whom they are separated, but for those who wanted the separation to occur the cliché is false. It is only an unwanted absence that makes the heart grow fonder; a desired absence makes the heart grow cold and cruel.

We know this in our own lives. This is part of what makes the holiday season so very special and meaningful for us. This is the time of year when we visit with our relatives and friends with whom we have not spoken and whom we have not visited in some time. The early winter months are the time of year that we give to others and seek to reconnect with those whom we love. Each year we say we will be better at keeping in touch but rarely do we keep true to this promise. And between those with whom a deep emotional bond is shared, such an absence truly does make the heart grow fonder. The longer we are separated the greater our hope and desire of seeing each other becomes and when finally we are reunited, how great is our joy, because we are now with the one whom we love.

The same should be true of the Lord; his absence should make our hearts grow fonder. And from our experience with those around us, as our love grows and we long to be with someone, we grow tired and weary and exhausted as we wait and wait and wait to be with them. And so, today Holy Mother Church recognizes this fact and sees how tired our waiting for the Lord has made us and she gives this Sunday to rejoice heartily because the Lord for whom we wait is near. Because of this, Paul says to us, “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I say rejoice.”

Why does he say it twice? Says St. Anthony of Padua,
Note that he says ‘rejoice’ twice, because of the two-fold blessing of the first and second Advents. We should rejoice, because in his first coming he bestowed riches and glory on us. We should rejoice again, because in his second coming he will give us length of days (Third Sunday of Advent, 3).

But how do we rejoice in the Lord? St. Paul answers this question for us rather simply. He says to us:

Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophetic utterances. Test everything; retain what is good. Refrain from every kind of evil (I Thessalonians 5:16-22).

We rejoice always whenever we keep our attention focused not on ourselves or on the things of this world, but on the Blessed Trinity and our heavenly homeland.

If we have faithfully kept the Advent watch and looked intently and prayerfully for the coming of Christ; if we have followed the counsel of John the Baptist, then today truly will be a day of great joy. If we have kept the Advent watch our hearts will have begun to ache within us as we continually have called out, “Come, Lord Jesus! Do not delay!” For us, today is truly a day to rest and to remember that the Lord Jesus is very near.

But if somehow our hearts do not ache with great fondness and love for Jesus Christ and a sincere desiring for his coming; if we have been distracted by the busy-ness of this time of year and have not properly focused on the coming of Christ, there still is cause here for joy today. John the Baptist was sent among us

to bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners, to announce a year of favor from the LORD and a day of vindication by our God(Isaiah 61:1-2).

There is no reason for us to still be held captive by the bonds of sadness and despair; the chains of gloom and sin and death have been broken forever by Christ the Lord! Rejoice in the Lord always! He is victorious! The war is already won! Christ has conquered! Rejoice in the Lord!

John said to the Pharisees, “there is one among you whom you do not recognize, the one who is coming after me, whose sandal I am not worthy to untie” (John 1:26-27). Jesus still is present among us even if we also do not recognize him. He comes to us each day through the Scriptures and through the Sacraments. He has already come among us in the proclamation of the Gospel and he will come us again in a most profound way in the Blessed Eucharist. In the presence of our Eucharistic King we should always rejoice and call to mind the prayer of St. Paul: “May the God of peace make you perfectly holy and may you entirely, spirit, soul, and body, be preserved blameless for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will also accomplish it” (I Thessalonians 5:23-24).

Come, Lord Jesus!

03 December 2005

Homily - 4 December 2005

The Second Sunday of Advent (B)

The last of the prophets has come. The Lord God sent the prophets one by one throughout the history of Israel to direct their minds and hearts to the coming of the Messiah, to the Anointed One of God who would redeem his people. Thus, Isaiah proclaimed to the people just as he proclaims to us today these many years later:

prepare the way of the LORD! Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God! Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill shall be made low; the rugged land shall be made a plain, the rough country, a broad valley (Isaiah 40:3-4).

The message is clear: our Lord Jesus Christ, the King of Heaven and Earth, is coming, and we must be prepared to welcome him upon his arrival.

We know that his coming will be most unexpected and that we “do not know when the Lord of the house is coming, whether in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning” (Mark 13:35). Therefore we must seek to always be “ready to greet him when he comes again,” as all good servants and friends are. Every parent stays awake, watches, and waits until their child returns in for the night. It should be no different with us, for our Lord commands us to “Watch!” (Mark 13:37).

The last of the prophets has come, the one of whom Isaiah foretold:

Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you; he will prepare your way. A voice of one crying out in the desert: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths” (Mark 1:2-3).

The last of the prophets is, of course, John the Baptist, for unlike the prophets who came before him, John saw and gave undeniable witness to him of whom he spoke. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the other prophets all told of the coming of the Messiah, but never did they see him. The prophets yearned for the coming of the Anointed One of Israel but their mission was not to point to him directly, but to prepare the hearts of the people for his coming. Of these prophets Jesus said to his Apostles,

Blessed are the eyes that see what you see. For I say to you, many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it (Luke 10:23-24).

John the Baptist, the Forerunner of the Lord, is unlike the other prophets in this regard and because of this is also the greatest of the prophets. While Isaiah and the others told the people of the coming Messiah, John pointed to him physically. Him whom the other prophets longed to see and hear, John saw with his own eyes and heard with his own ears and pointed to with his own hand. The Messiah has come! Our King has come to us and walked among us!

The all-powerful God abandoned the glory of heaven to be born of the Virgin Mary. He lived our life, he walked our walk and talked our talk, he died our death, and rose again to the glory of Father, destroying forever the power of sin and death. We know that the Son of God will come again to raise our mortal bodies from the earth to enjoy with him forever the vision of eternal Beauty. He promised he would come to us in “a little while;” why, then, has he not yet returned in the course of these two thousand years? (John 16:16).

St. Peter addresses this very question for us today, a question that is just as real and important today as it was some two thousand years ago. The Prince of the Apostles reminds us,

Do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like one day. The Lord does not delay his promise, as some regard “delay,” but he is patient with you, not wishing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance (II Peter 3:8-9).

In his unfathomable wisdom and mercy, Christ the Lord has not yet returned in order to allow us more time to turn toward him, to confess our faults, to implore his forgiveness, and to know the immense power and peaceful gentleness of his love. Jesus has not yet returned so that we might more fully heed the words of the Baptist: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Matthew 3:2).

Our first Pope encourages us to seek the tender mercy of the Lord pleading with us saying, “Therefore, beloved, since you await [new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells], be eager to be found without spot or blemish before him” (II Peter 3:14). We must, then, level the mountains of our pride and fill in the valleys of our greed with humility and trust. Let us make straight the wasteland of our self-centeredness; let us, through his grace, construct a highway of faith, hope, and love that he may find us eagerly awaiting his return, for

the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a mighty roar and the elements will be dissolved by fire, and the earth and everything done on it will be found out” (II Peter 3:10).

After having prepared our souls to receive the Lord and to welcome him with cries of great joy and jubilation, let us then climb the high mountain and “cry out at the top of [our] voice” (Isaiah 40:9). Let us join in the mission of John the Baptist and point out to the world the Messiah, the one for whom every soul truly longs. Let us cry out to a world desperate for the Savior,

Here is your God! Here comes with power the LORD God, who rules by his strong arm; here is his reward with him, his recompense before him. Like a shepherd he feeds his flock; in his arms he gathers the lambs, carrying them in his bosom, and leading the ewes with care (Isaiah 40:9-11).

Like John the Baptist, we must give witness to the Messiah who is coming again.

Do not say, “I have time yet to prepare. I will get ready for the Lord after I do this or that.” No! The return of the King is near! We must be prepared, and the more we prepare ourselves the sooner he will come, for as Peter tells us,

Since everything is to be dissolved in this way, what sort of persons ought you to be, conducting yourselves in holiness and devotion, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God (II Peter 3:11-12).

Prepare the way of the Lord; make straight his paths. Come, Lord Jesus!