Sunday, December 2, 2012

Preparing the Way

Readings for Sunday, December 2/ 1st Sunday of Advent:
Jeremiah 33:14-16
Psalm 25:4-5, 8-10, 14
1 Thessalonians 3:12-4:2
Luke 21:25-28, 34-36

The Advent season is my favorite liturgical season of the year – and not just because we get to wear purple & gold for Mass -  and yet, sadly, it is also the most neglected season of the whole year. Everyone knows about Christmas and Easter, since they are both popular in the secular world because of the gift-giving, Santa Claus, Easter Bunny and delicious edible chocolate rabbits. Even protestants and non-Christians have begun to see the great wisdom of the season of Lent and imitated it in their own ways. But because of all the Christmas decorating and preparing, holiday parties, football games, and other activities of the world Advent is easily passed over – so we Catholics must make it our task to show the world the great value of this blessed season known traditionally as the ‘little lent’.

The past few weeks have shown me over and again how we, as modern men and women, have a particular gift of overly complicating things. Like when we are having trouble with our newest high-tech equipment and we are caught up in all the details but forget simple things like – Is it plugged in? Did I hit the power button? Is it on mute? And we can do the same with the season of Advent. We are joyful at the Lord’s coming but penitential in our vestments and liturgical celebration. We look forward to the birth of an innocent child and hear readings of the end of the world and judgment. The world around us is singing Christmas carols of Jesus’ birth and we quietly sit before empty crèches waiting for another three weeks. Behind all of that complexity we are called to a very simple task: prepare.

Our Lord challenges us in the Gospel: “Be vigilant at all times and pray….” And so for these next few weeks we make that special effort to be vigilant and prayerful in light of His coming to us. The first coming, we know, is one that we commemorate at Christmas – the coming of God among us as a little, helpless child. With that quiet entry into our world He fulfilled that promise spoken by the Lord in Jeremiah of a sprout from David’s line. Just as Christ came to fulfill that promise of the Lord, so too, will he fulfill that second promise of coming again in glory. This second coming will be entirely different from the first. Rather than a quiet, largely unnoticed arrival, there will instead be great signs that mark the skies and his coming will be so incredible and powerful that He Himself notes that “many will die of fright in anticipation” of what is to happen on the earth.

And so we must prepare. We have at our fingertips all sorts of great ways to prepare for the Lord’s coming – both in humility and in glory. Reading the Scriptures, spending time in the Adoration Chapel, volunteering or helping out others during the holiday season, and many more things are great ways for us all to prepare ourselves. But above all there is one specific thing that can prepare us best and that is the Sacrament of Reconciliation. This is because rather than us trying to prepare ourselves and do things, it is the Lord Himself who comes and prepares us.

As I was reflecting on the need for reconciliation, I was reminded of when I was in high school and my parents gave me their old Ford F-150 with an extended cab. As I was living the busy life, I tended to simply toss stuff in my back seat to make room in the front for people to ride. After months and month of doing this my mom finally came to me and  said, “Brent, that is disgusting. You really need to clean your truck out.” And so I went to work cleaning the truck. To my surprise, I found a disturbing number of fast-food bags, tons of miscellaneous papers and receipts, and even a few bags full of clothes and CD’s that I had bought and promptly forgotten about as they found their way to the seat behind me. I didn’t realize it, but I was carrying around a ton of junk, much of which I had forgotten about entirely. And the reality is that many of us are doing the same. And so I come today to take my mom’s for each of you to say “It’s to clean up.”

The longer we wait to go to confession, the more stuff just builds up and builds up. And it’s doing us no good whatsoever. Our Lord Jesus came that we might have life to the full and experience true freedom, yet so often we do the exact opposite, binding ourselves in sin and free only from freedom itself. So why not come and place at the feet of the Lord all the stuff weighing us down? Come and experience pardon and peace.

I know that some of you might have some reservations about coming to Confession, but it is nothing to be feared. Quite the opposite, it is something to be loved and greatly anticipated because it is the place where we can meet God and know for sure the love that He has for us by the forgiveness of sins. We priests are not in the business of judgment. We are there to be instruments of mercy. And we don’t concern ourselves with remembering sins, because it is by God’s grace that sins are forgotten when you walk out the door. But even more than that, we can be freed from all the stuff that can bind us. When we go to confession we go before the Lord Himself and there hear Him say to us through the voice of the priest “I absolve you for your sins”. And as Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen once said, when the priest raises his hand over the penitent in the sacrament, he is not just praying over them but in a spiritual sense he is allowing the blood of Christ, shed on the Cross, to pour forth from his hands onto the soul of the person before him, washing clean every stain of sin that is present.

To conclude, I want to issue each of you an invitation, and even a challenge, to make a good confession before Christmas comes. Let the Lord have the stuff of sin from our lives and receive the freedom for which we were created. Truly then we will be prepared for the Lord’s coming and not be like those frightened to the point of death at His coming, but rather be like those who stand erect with eyes facing Heaven because we know in our hearts that redemption has now come to us.