Readings for Sunday, November 30 / 1st Sunday of Advent: Isaiah 2:1-5 | Psalm 122 | Romans 13:11-14 | Matthew 24:37-44
Happy Advent! We not used to "Happy Advent" necessarily, but it is good that we are here and it is
good that it is Advent.
good that it is Advent.
"Advent" means "to come to" - In the whole course of the season we hear in the prayers of the Mass of that preparation of the Lord to come to us, as well as for us on the last day to come to Him. Each year we celebrate Advent, we start the new liturgical year, we begin that old familiar cycle as we go through the seasons. And it can seem as if we are kind of on a merry-go-round that we just keep going in circles over and over and over - doing the same prayers, the same rituals, we hear the same readings - and it can seem rather mundane. But rather than a simple merry-go-round, I invite you to think of our liturgical year and our celebration of the liturgy as basically a corkscrew for a good bottle of wine. Rather than simply going in circles, it digs deeper into the cork to go down and down. It goes in the same circle but always deeper. I pray that can be our experience of our relationship with the Lord Jesus - that as we go through the course of our years, each year we find we are a little bit deeper, a little bit closer to Christ than where we were at the same spot last year. It's an opportunity and invitation for us to continue to go deeper and deeper into the heart of God.
In the Gospel, the Lord Jesus makes no bones about the fact that we ought to be prepared. He says that we must be prepared, "stay awake." In the days of Noah, people were not expecting a flood. There were out in the field, they were in the grain, taking care of things as normal. And out of nowhere, Noah (the fool) becomes a smart man. When no one was expecting anything, Noah is saved and they are washed away. In the same manner, the Lord Jesus says it will be when He comes again in glory. People will be at their normal work, will be out at the fields, be at the store, the house, at church, we'll be wherever, and one of us will be taken and the other will be left He says. It will catch us by surprise, so be prepared.
But it's hard to be prepared for that, because for 2,000 years we've been here. For 2,000 years the Lord Jesus hasn't come back yet. For 2,000 generation after generation has lived thinking maybe we are the last ones and they were wrong. And because we have such a long track record of being wrong, thinking that maybe this is the time that the Lord Jesus is going to come back, it's easy for us to think that maybe it's next generation. And so we become comfortable. We stay “ok” to be where we are and don't really prepare. Because we've presumed for 2,000 years things have gone as normal. Surely it can't happen in our time now. It's been 2,000 years, what's special about our age. But the Lord says, "Prepare. Stay awake." Those words were spoken for every single generation.
For the last couple of years my homilies, the focus and push of my homilies, has basically been to try and encourage you (but more often than not, me, because I preach to myself) to encourage us to love the Lord Jesus more deeply, whether it's in love of God, love of the Eucharist, love of the Liturgy, Our Lady, the saints, love of one another, love of virtue, and love of the things of our faith - the scriptures - in love of all of these things, ultimately to come and love Jesus more deeply. But there has been something on my heart that for a while now to make a little bit of a change. A little bit of a tweak in my celebration of the liturgy, particular in the preaching of the homily. And I've been kind of wrestling with it for several months now, but as I was praying with the scriptures in preparation for this homily, it seemed that all of that was confirmed by the Lord and said, "Just do it. Stop fighting. Quit overthinking it. Just do it." And it came from the words of Isaiah the prophet, "Come let us climb to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the Lord, that He might instruct us in His ways and may walk in His paths." Ultimately what I have been trying to do is encourage you to walk in the paths of the Lord. What the Lord Jesus, rather bluntly, showed me was "Brent, you need to also instruct them in the ways." Instruct them in the ways then we walk in the paths. And so what I would like to do is take my homilies and go back to the basics. Not to have every single week a separate homily on some random spiritual topic according to what the scripture says, but rather to have a sort of systematic series of addressing the essentials of our faith. The basics. Not to get caught up in all the big lofty things, which are good and holy and necessary for us, but just to start with the simple things of what it means to be a Christian, what it is to be Catholic, what is the gift of our faith. So many questions that are asked routinely, or at least pondered if not asked directly to the priests, I would like to respond to throughout the course of this year. One of the things I would also like to do in conjunction with that is most of my homilies are stand alone homilies; you come and this weekend you get one message and next weekend you get a different message; sometimes they connect, sometimes not. But I would like to do series of homilies beginning more or less next week, rather than just to come and get one dot here, one dot here and one dot here, but to have two, maybe three or four weeks at a time, where we will have a system where we will address one particular aspect of our life of faith in the Church so that we can go deeper. One thing that may actually happen is the homilies might be a little bit shorter, as I don't have to jam everything into one one single homily. But if I permit myself to stretch it over two, three, four weeks ... so I'm not promising you shorter homilies, but they could be a by-product.
But all of that is essentially to say that I want to get back to the basics for you, but also for me. I recognize that my love for the Lord is not where it should be either. And as Isaiah simply says, let us go to the house of the Lord, so that He might instruct us in His ways. So I need to learn from my God for myself, and we need to learn from Him as well as He speaks with us, and then we may walk in His paths.
Anyone who is married, I'm pretty sure you know a little bit more about your spouse today than on the day of your wedding. Hopefully you like them a little bit more now. For those of you with children, much the same. You knew them, but as they grow and develop you learn more and more about them. In any relationship, you come to know more about a particular person, and in doing so, hopefully we learn to love them more. I've experienced that in my experience of the priesthood just on a practical level, a personal level, getting to know so many of you in a more personal way by various means. But one of the ways it has struck me is in the confessional. I've heard a thousand times, and I know I've thought and presumed similar things myself ... "When I go to confession, surely the priest is going to know who I am, especially if face to face, and next time he sees me, he's going to be thinking of my sins. I know it. Next time I see him at the market, the ball field or wherever, he's going to be looking at me thinking 'Uhuh ... it's one of those sinners over there.'" And it's this presumption that the priest looks upon on us with our sins in mind. I'm guilty of it myself, even as a priest. But what I have discovered personally for myself, I've never heard it from another priest, but I presume much could be said the same, is that in the sacrament of Reconciliation, in Confession, there's something strange that happens. I can only gather that it is the grace of the Lord Jesus conforming my heart to be more like a good priest like a should be, and it's whenever you come in and sit before me - I know you and love you on that level for what I see in the normal world - but as you open your heart, I am able to love you not only in your goodness but also in your brokenness, to love more of you. And that's the thing that has struck me, as a priest I learn to love people more on account of their sins, not less. Not to be more judgmental, but to be more compassionate, to be more joyful in the presence of others. That's our desire for the Lord Jesus with this - to be able to come to the Lord and learn more about Him, learn about the richness of our faith, that in the course of it, our love might increase. I can stand up here all day and tell you to love Jesus, but if I don't give you any fuel for the fire, it doesn't really help. And too many times I feel I've been just standing here saying love Jesus, but haven't given fuel haven't helped you to love Jesus as you should. Nor have I given myself the same. So it's my intention for us to enter into this year as an opportunity for catechesis, formation - being formed and shaped by our faith.
A couple of weeks ago or maybe last week, I mentioned the FORMED.org online program. I know a handful of you have already made use of it and I am delighted at that. But I really want to encourage each and everyone of you, if you have internet access at all, go to formed.org and check it out. I saw that because there are audio, books, videos, movie programs, Bible study, small groups, prayer groups, everything under the sun is there. But there are two special things that I think would be helpful for us immediately today: one of them is that they have a scripture reflection on the main page so that you can go and listen to reflections breaking open the word of God in the scriptures each week but they also have an Advent video program on reflections for the Advent season. I am mentioning that as a way of kind of holding myself accountable, that if I am saying I'm going to do it and telling you to do it, I have to actually do it. I've been wanting to do it, but need an extra push. So, I'm going to ask you to hold me accountable to make sure I'm actually keeping up with it myself.
Again, we are called to enter into the season, to begin again. To look forward to the coming of the Lord Jesus, to look forward to the day where He comes to us at Christmas, on the Last Day as well as each day in the encounter of our Christian life. I encourage myself and each of you with the words of Isaiah, "O house of Jacob, [Church of God,] come let us walk in the light of the Lord." Come, O Come, Emmanuel.