Reflections for the First Week of Advent 2011**
** These homilies were written by Fr. Howard in 2008 and 2009.
They refer to the daily readings for the 1st Week of Advent 2011.
Sunday of the First Week of Advent
November 27, Mark 13: 33-37
Jesus said to his disciples: “Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come.”
Round and round it goes, and where it stops nobody knows.” These were always the words of Major Bowes as he began his Amateur Hour radio program in the 1930’s. I guess I am dating myself by quoting him, but I am sure that there are others of you who will also remember him. Maybe we can take the liberty to paraphrase his words: Round and round it goes, and where it stops only God knows. Today, with the First Sunday of Advent, we begin another Liturgical year as well as another year in our pilgrimage to our Father and Creator. As we hear every year on this day, our Gospel tells us to be watchful and alert as we await the coming of the Lord Jesus. We are encouraged to watch and wait and to repent and persevere in our pilgrimage toward eternal life with God.
Let us remember that there is a difference between taking a journey and making a pilgrimage. A journey, at least according to me, is a straight shot to where I want to go. I get on a road and go directly to my destination, no fooling around or loitering on the way. For example, if I wish to take a journey from Prior Lake, MN, where I live, to Duluth, MN, I will head north on interstate highway I-35 and in three hours or so I will be in Duluth. If, on the other hand, I wish to take a pilgrimage to Duluth, I will head north on the same interstate highway but I will zig and zag along the way stopping at every casino between here and Duluth. I will arrive in Duluth in a couple of weeks – broke. Most of us are on a pilgrimage to the Father, going a little ways in all different directions and hopefully eventually getting back on course to my original destination.
During Advent let us all try and take the time to reflect on the year just past. Where did we make progress in our spiritual lives? Where did we fail and perhaps go in reverse? What particular areas of my life should I focus on this year? Let us remember that none of us will ever be perfect and because of this progress is always possible. This will continue until I die.
Finally, let us all remember that Advent is a penitential season and a good time to receive the Sacrament of Penance. Let us examine ourselves closely and see what it is in our lives that is blocking us from a better and more intimate relationship with our God and our neighbor. What do I have to do to makes these relationships better? And let us remember that to make progress at all we have to have God in the picture. He and he alone is the Changer. We are the changees. Let us repent with the help of the Sacrament and make a U turn or two.
Hopefully, we begin this year with the confidence, faith and trust in God that we can and will make progress spiritually this year. With the Lord Jesus at our side, we will not be disappointed.
Monday of the First Week of Advent
November 28, Matthew 8: 5-11
Today’s Gospel selection for this first Monday of Advent reminds us that Jesus’ coming, for which we are all waiting and preparing, is for all people. “Many will come from the east and the west, and will recline with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob at the banquet in the Kingdom of heaven.” Not some will come, but many from all over the world. The centurion, whose servant Jesus cured in today’s Gospel, was a Gentile. It is not the color of one’s skin or where a person is from that makes him/her a candidate for God’s Kingdom. All that is required is their faith in Christ Jesus.
This is a good Gospel for us to read and then reflect on our prejudices. Usually there are a few of these floating around in all of us if we are honest with ourselves. Let us pray today that in this coming year we may grow to view all people as sons and daughters of the one God and know that he comes in the Incarnation for all people on earth.
Tuesday of the First Week of Advent
November 29, Luke 10: 21-24
“I give you praise, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike.”
Children see things without pretense. They acknowledge their dependence on God; they are simple and humble. They have faith and trust. They have no pride, the root of evil. They are open to God’s wisdom, grace and help and they don’t try and do it all themselves. The message of God in today’s Gospel is quite simple. We are preparing for the coming of the Savior who came to us without pretense, without any phoniness or make-believe. What you see is what you get with Jesus. He was simple, humble and poor. Never do we detect the slightest hint of pride in Jesus. Never did he do his own thing, but rather we constantly see him seeking the will of his Father.
These childlike qualities make a nice list for us to focus on during the season of Advent. As we noted yesterday, Advent is a season of penance and conversion, a season of U turns in our spiritual lives. I for one can certainly find room for improvement in the area of being my real self at all times without any semblance of pretense or phoniness. There was a time when I was as phony as a 4 dollar bill, and it is difficult to get rid of that nonsense. Pride does rear its head in my motivation from time to time and often I revert to being my own way, truth and life. The foolishness continues, I regret to say.
Jesus, help me to be more like you and the little children you often present to us in the Gospels as models for ourselves.
Wednesday of the First Week of Advent
November 30, Feast of St. Andrew
The Apostle Andrew, like his brother, St. Peter, was a fisherman from Bethsaida. Andrew first was a disciple of St. John the Baptist, the forerunner of the Messiah. When Jesus came along Andrew left John to follow Jesus. One of the things he asked Jesus was where Jesus lived and Jesus told him, “Come and see.” Andrew was the first disciple of Jesus. He introduced his brother, Peter, to the Lord and he followed Jesus, too, as we all know.
After our Lord ascended into heaven, Andrew went to Greece to preach the Gospel. It is believed that he was put to death on a cross to which he was tied, not nailed. Two countries have chosen St. Andrew as their patron Saint: Russia and Scotland.
St. Andrew, pray for us.
Thursday of the First Week of Advent
December 1, Matthew 7: 21, 24-27
“Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.”
Every time I read the Gospel chosen for today’s Liturgy, I think of the virtue of prudence. St. Thomas Aquinas defined prudence in three Latin words: Recta ratio agibilium, i.e., the right way of doing things. It is definitely the right way to build a house by putting the foundation of the whole thing on solid ground and not in the middle of a marsh with wet, soggy and shifting ground. The one is going to last; the other will not last.
It is also prudent, the right way of doing things, not only to hear the word of God but also to put it into action, to do it. So often in listening to the Word of Jesus, I allow it to quite literally go in one ear and out the other as if there was nothing in between.
Lord, help me to improve my doing of your Word during this season of Advent.
Friday of the First Week of Advent
December 2, Matthew 9: 27-31
In today’s Gospel choice, two blind men approached Jesus and cried out, “Son of David, have pity on us!” And Jesus opened their sightless eyes. They literally saw again the light of day! I think to myself that I cannot imagine a more terrible loss than blindness. All of our five senses are important for quality living, but to be deprived of the sense of sight must be unusually difficult to handle. I truly admire the blind people I meet who come to the retreat house for retreat. They are really happy and productive people despite their handicap.
In today’s Gospel Jesus, the light of the world, returned the sense of sight to two men. I believe it is true to say that all of us are blind in our ignorance and are in need of the light of the Lord. None of us is perfect and we all need the converting light of Jesus’ words in our lives. Let us all ask ourselves during this Advent Season in what areas of our spiritual blindness we are most in need of the light of Christ.
Lord, we are nothing without you and the light of your words. Jesus, Son of David, help us to see your way, truth and life.
Saturday of the First Week of Advent
December 3, Matthew 9: 35 – 10: 1, 5-8
In our Gospel today, Jesus bestows special gifts upon his disciples. He gave them the gift of teaching in their synagogue, proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom and of curing every disease and illness. Then he sent them forth to cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers and drive out demons. He further tells them, “Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give.”
Once more we are reminded of the gifts and talents we have all received from the Great Giver, Jesus. He gave them to us freely. We did not earn them or deserve them or have to pay anything for them. Our only task, as we have noted before, is to take them and use them in the service of others without any cost or recompense from them. Thus is the plan of God in creation to be fulfilled. We are his instruments in bringing this plan to be. Let us be conscious of these gifts during this season of gift-giving and resolve to truly use what we have been given for the good of those around us.