The First Sunday of Advent
Once again we begin a new Church year with the beginning of the season of Advent. We begin this new Liturgical Year with the A cycle of readings and we will feature the Gospel of St. Matthew for Ordinary Time. As we begin this year, let us pray that it will be a good year spiritually for all of us.
Advent, despite some of the apocalyptic literature we will read at its beginning, is not a season of gloom and doom, but rather it is a season of hope, peace, love and light.
Light is one of the most popular of all the symbols used to symbolize Christ. It only takes St. John, at the beginning of his Gospel, three verses to get into this symbol of light. He writes in John 1: 3-5: “What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.” And in 1: 9, he writes: “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.” All three readings for this Liturgy of the First Sunday of Advent speak of the light of the Lord. Isaiah, in the first reading shouts out, “O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord.” And Paul writes in the second Reading to the Romans, “Let us throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.”
The world seems to have picked this idea of “light” in the Scriptures up and made the season of Advent, the season of the Messiah’s coming, a season of light. All around us, in the stores, churches, in the parks of cities, we see the colored lights of the Christmas season. The ancient Romans each year celebrated the Birthday of the Sun. In the third century, the Church adapted this and celebrated the Birth of Jesus, the Son of God.
The Gospel chosen to be read on this day reminds us to “stay awake!” When we see the lights on trees, decorations, on the Advent wreathe, let them be reminders to us of Jesus, the symbol of light. And, remember as we have said many times before, symbols cause what they symbolize. Jesus symbolizes light and he causes light for us through his teachings and values, through his coming into the world as a man and making all things new. All of this is what takes us away from the darkness of sin and error. So, let’s all begin this season of light by opening our hearts to Jesus, the Light of the World.
There is a beautiful picture of Jesus standing outside a small cottage in the woods and he is knocking on the door. This picture was painted by the artist Holman Hunt and you can bring it up on your computer simply by typing “Jesus knocking on the door” on any of the search engines. It won’t take you too long in looking at the picture to notice that there is no door knob or latch on the outside of the door upon which Jesus is knocking. This suggests that the only latch on the door is on the inside. The message: Jesus is knocking on our door, but only we can open the door, as the knob is on the inside.
During this season of Advent, Jesus is knocking on our door to give us his light. Let’s open the door and receive his gift.
Monday of the First Week of Advent
Mt. 8: 5-11
“Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed.”
It kind of irks me a bit when we say the words quoted above just before we receive the Holy Eucharist at Mass. There was a time (before the redemptive act of Jesus on the cross) when we were not worthy, but we are worthy now (after he has died for our sins.)
This is one of the great graces given us by Jesus. He gave us his flesh to eat and his blood to drink and along with this he bestowed on us the dignity to receive him into our hearts. With this God-given dignity, we can receive him under our roof, into our hearts, every time we go to Mass! I believe this is one of the truths we are being urged to “stay awake to”, during this season of Advent.
As we receive the Eucharist at Mass during Advent, let us remember the words written by St. Francis of Assisi in his Letter to the Entire Order: “The Lord of the universe, God and the Son of God, so humbles Himself that for our salvation he hides Himself under an ordinary piece of bread! Brothers and Sisters, look at the humility of God, and pour out your hearts before Him! Humble yourselves that you may be exulted by Him! Hold back nothing of yourselves, that He who gives Himself totally to you may receive you totally.”
Truly a beautiful prayer for all of us to remember to say as we receive Jesus in Eucharist.
Feast of St. Andrew, Apostle
Nov. 30, Mt. 4: 18-22
I have always marveled at this Gospel read on the Feast of St. Andrew, the Apostle. Simon Peter and Andrew, brothers, are fishing. Jesus approached them and said, “Come after me and I will make you fishers of people.” He did the same thing with two other brothers, James and John. They were fishing with their father Zebedee. They all proceeded to drop everything, right then and there, and followed Jesus. I have always wondered what Zebedee thought when all of a sudden he was standing there all alone!
Let’s just take a moment and think how many, many things get in our way every day and keep us from responding quickly, immediately, to what Jesus would have us do. The idea of keeping our priorities straight comes up often in the Gospels. Jesus is first, and then comes whatever else. We just don’t seem to dig this about 90% of the time.
Jesus, help me during Advent to respond to your calls right way when I hear you calling.
Wednesday of the First Week of Advent
Mt. 5: 29-37
“Great crowds came to him.”
Today’s Gospel recounts Matthew’ version of the Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes. Matthew does not give the number of people at the scene, but a couple of the other Evangelists do, telling us there were some 5000 men, women and children. Just stop to think about it for a moment. Getting that many people to follow anybody in those times of small towns had to be a huge accomplishment.
They followed him because he caused the mute to speak, the deformed to be made whole, the lame to walk, and the blind to see. And it should be obvious to all that many people are still attracted to follow after Jesus today. People-wise, Christianity outnumbers all other religions in the world. And the compassion and miracles of Jesus continue. Those of us who follow him and pray to him know this. Many others are still in the darkness outside.
Let us pray that people of every nation will continue to cause the numbers of the followers of Jesus to grow and grow. He will feed them all. All they have to do is come.
Thursday of the First Week of Advent
Mt. 7: 21, 24-27
“Not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord, will enter the Kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.”
Jesus reminds his followers in today’s Gospel that we are not to be all take, take, take. We must also give something back. There is work involved for us in the redemptive cycle. God’s grace is pure gift and we do nothing to earn it, but once again we must have the will, the desire, to have his grace. And that is going to get us involved in Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s distinction in his book Discipleship between cheap grace and costly grace.
God’s grace is available for all and if all we do is take it, that makes the grace cheap. But to take it and to make something out of myself with it, to become compassionate, loving, caring, serving, etc., that is costly grace. It costs me some effort on my part to really follow Jesus. This is something for us to constantly remind ourselves of.
Friday of the First Week of Advent
Dec. 3, Mt. 9: 27-31
The two blind men cured by Jesus in today’s Gospel most probably went on to become his disciples and followed after him. Jesus tells them not to tell of their healing to anyone, but they were overwhelmed and went out and told everyone they met what Jesus had done for them. They had received Jesus’ grace of healing and they felt the necessity to go and tell others about Jesus, to help him spread his message.
We have all received so much from Jesus. Are we spreading and sharing his “good news” with the other people we meet?
Saturday of the First Week of Advent
Mt. 9: 35 – 10: 5-8
“Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give.”
I wonder if these words just quoted from today’s Gospel had anything to do with Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s distinction between cheap and costly grace? Probably not, but it is funny how these words come up right after our previous comments on cheap and costly grace. Today’s words mean “literally” that we have received God’s grace freely and that we are to pass it on to others without any charge to them. It would be like me charging you to read these homilies! But without too much effort we could make it read: Without cost you have received; but with some cost to yourself you are to give it to others. The Scriptures are so adaptable to all situations.