11 December 20163 Advent

Homily from Father James Gilhooley
3 Advent
Third Sunday of Advent - A Cycle - Matthew 11: 2-11

College students placed a mural outside their dorm window. Pictured were a school of fish swimming in the same direction. In their midst was one moving the other way. He was going against the flow. So must we. "You go tell John," said Jesus, "that former lepers have skin that dermatologists envy, that those once deaf are listening to Mozart, that those formerly blind are enjoying flat screen TV, and those once paralyzed are playing championship soccer." (F Buechner) It was the year 28. The summer heat was 104 in the shade. John the Baptizer was finishing the sixth month as a prisoner. His dungeon was located in the fortress of Machaerus overlooking the Dead Sea in southern Palestine. His jailer was King Herod of Judea. John's crime was that he had publicly accused the king of adultery. His Majesty wanted pay-back time. He threw John into a security cell and "threw the key down a crocodile's throat."

Down in solitary, the Baptist was as restless as a caged lion. Neither the maddening sandflies by day nor the nocturnal rats big enough to ride disturbed him as much as his narrow cell. His home had been the desert that knew no boundaries. He had never lived in a house. Yet, it was more than the confining space that caused his insomnia. For several years prior to imprisonment, John's job description had called for him to announce the imminent arrival of the Messiah. It was He for whom the Jews had longed for centuries. John had promised his vast audiences that this Messiah would enter their lives like a category five hurricane. John was convinced too that he had met this Messiah and had even baptized Him.

But never once did Jesus declare Himself the Messiah. Until He did, there could be no major political coup d'etat that would have Him crowned and the millennium begin. So, John still had one major job to do before he would ship out. He knew he was a dead man walking. He must force or con Jesus into revealing who He was. His game plan was to dispatch his disciples to search for Jesus in the mountains. They would need no bloodhounds to find Him. They had but to look for a Man surrounded by thousands of groupies. Jesus had a rock star following.

Then he would have them put the question, "Are you the one who is to come...?" John felt Jesus must answer the question, for He could not lie. But John's strategy did not work. The Nazarene did not deny He was the Messiah but neither did He affirm it. As He would do so often in His own public career, He ignored the question and pursued His agenda. He borrowed the poetical language of Isaiah for His answer. "Tell your leader that the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised." He e-mailed His answer to John in code.

The Baptizer knew that when the Messiah did appear, these miraculous events would occur. Jesus knew that John's disciples would surely tell their guru of the miracles they had witnessed. Christ had performed miracles even Alzheimer victims could not forget. So, Jesus was telling John that the prophecies of Isaiah had indeed been fulfilled in Himself. Implicitly, He fessed up to being the Messiah. We have no way of knowing John's reaction to the reply. Probably he was ticked off. But, like it or no, that implicit affirmation would have to be enough for himself and us. No person, not even a John the Baptist whom the record shows Jesus admired above all others, was going to write the script for Him.

No one would put Him against a wall if He did not want to go there. No one would ever force His hand. Jesus proposed to reveal His Messiahship in His good time. There would be no substitute for raw faith either for John or anyone else down through the centuries. John, like all others including us, would have to say of Christ, "I believe even though I look through a glass darkly." I received this note from a young man dying of pancreatic cancer. He died shortly after he wrote it. "I am so happy to tell you I have complete faith in God. He will take complete care of me in life or death. It is such a wonderful feeling to turn the burden over to Him." That is the kind of faith the Christ wants us to have in Him. Faith is not being sure where you're going but going anyhow. (F Buechner) This Advent go against the flow.
Homily from Father Joseph Pellegrino
3 Advent

Third Sunday of Advent: Joy
In the Gospel reading, John the Baptist heard about Jesus' preaching and healing. He sent his disciples to ask Jesus if he is the Christ, the Messiah. Jesus told John's disciples to look around. "The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them." What a scene those disciples of John reported back to the Baptist!

It was a scene is full of excitement and joy. This is what the Messiah came to bring: healing, peace, hope, and joy. John would know that the prophecy of Isaiah recounted in our first reading was being fulfilled: "Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy. And the ransomed of the LORD shall return, and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away." All John's disciples had to do was look around. The joy around them gave testimony to the presence of the Messiah. We also need to look around. There are tremendous reasons for us to be joyful. We are loved, and we have people we love. We have the sacraments. The presence of the Lord is real in our lives, as our young people experience at Eucharistic Adoration.

This real presence of the Lord is seen in all the sacraments. Consider the sacrament of matrimony. So many of our young adults are taking seriously their entrance into this sacrament. They are not concerned with sunsets or destination weddings. They are concerned with union together with God. Consider your own marriages. The vast majority of you have great marriages, despite the human failing you continually experience in each other and in yourselves. In fact, the very messiness that is humanity draws husbands and wives closer to each other and to God as you focus on your deep love. You continually reaffirm your marriage commitment in accepting each other every day, even though you live in a world where many people who refuse to make this commitment or take their marriage vows seriously. Consider the sacrament of penance. Catholics particularly at this time of year are finding joy in this sacrament. The old days of this being a harsh, cold sacrament, where a person sat in the dark and was scolded by a priest who showed little compassion exist only in the movies or on television, if these days really ever existed at all. I never experienced that, and I’m old. I get so upset when I hear people speaking negatively about this sacrament.

Penance is a sacrament of joy. People approach it to return to joy or to reaffirm their joy. God's love is evident all around us. People are returning to worship out of love and desire to worship, not out of fear. That is certainly a reason for joy. People are realizing their need to receive the Eucharist regularly and are approaching the Lord's table every week with joy. Perhaps we all suffer from focusing so hard on particular problems that we do not see the total picture. All of us have battle stories. But when we focus on the negatives of our lives, we overlook the beauties and wonders of God's love we have been called to share. We forget about the joy of our children growing. We forget about the joy of our Lord’s presence among us. We forget that we have people we love. We forget that we are loved, both by other people, and particularly, by the Lord. It is true, that we have to recognize that there are many around us who live in fear. Sickness, financial problems, questions about their future, struggles within their families, can cause people to live in fear. Many people are afraid to stand up for their faith, afraid that they will be mocked and excluded or at least marginalized from society, be that society in general or at school, work or the neighborhood.

These people need us to take up the commission that God gave to Isaiah in the first reading: “Strengthen the hands that are feeble, make firm the knees that are weak, say to those whose hearts are frightened: ‘Be strong, fear not! Here is your God. He comes with vindication; with divine recompense. He comes to save you.’” We are called to be people who bring joy to a fearful world. The basic attitude of a Christian is joy. I can't help but think of St. Teresa of Calcutta and her sisters, the Missionaries of Charity. Mother Teresa worked in the most loathsome conditions in the world. She and her sisters pulled dying people out of filthy streets and gutters, giving these poor people the gift of dying with dignity. Now, you would think that the Missionaries of Charity would be serious and somber.

They experience so much suffering. But if you ever heard St. Teresa speak or seen a program where her sisters are interviewed, you know that this is a cheerful group of Christian women. They are happy because they know that as they draw close to those who are dying in such horrible ways, they are drawing closer to God. They experience the presence of the Lord. How can they keep from singing His praise. The Lord is close to them. And the Lord is close to you and to me. He is closer to us than our fondest imagination. The Kingdom of God is at hand, as close to us as our hand is to our face. God loves us. He cares for us. We are His. His Son, Jesus is with us. His Spirit is our life-force. Our lives have meaning, and purpose. Our lives will have fulfillment. The New World of the Kingdom of God is so close. We must rejoice!
Homily from Father Phil Bloom
* Available in Spanish - see Spanish Homilies
3 Advent
Resisting Happiness Week 3: Delayed Gratification
(December 11, 2016)

Message: If you want to succeed, if you want happiness, pray for patience. St. James tells us, "Be patient, brothers and sisters." That the theme of today's homily: patience. Remember we are in a series titled Resisting Happiness. In the first week we saw that we all in some way resist happiness. We do things that sabotage our own happiness and other people's as well. Each must make a radical choice: happiness or misery. Last week we saw what the choice involves. In the journey of life a person can choose to be a pilgrim or a tourist. A tourist demands - and when things don't go right, he gets upset. A tourist lacks patience. A pilgrim looks for meaning even in delays and setbacks. He keeps his goal in mind.

A pilgrim knows that to attain his goal, he has to practice patience. Another word for patience is "delayed gratification." In his book Resisting Happiness, Matthew Kelly has this to say: "In order to have a healthy financial life that balances earning with spending, and saving with giving, one must be able to delay gratification. In order to raise children to become the-best-version-of-themselves, one must be willing to delay gratification. Great marriages are built on individual and mutual delayed gratification. Great careers are built little by little over time, and require doing the hard yards early and delaying gratification." Matthew Kelly tells about the famous Stanford marshmallow experiment. It involved researchers offering a child a choice between receiving a treat immediately or waiting fifteen minutes and receive two treats. with a marshmallow on the desk the researcher leaves the room.

The child who waits gets an extra marshmallow. Years later researchers follow up and discover that children able to delay gratification tend to have better life outcomes as measured by SAT scores, educational attainment, general health and well being. Now, I have to admit I was one of the kids who immediately ate the marshmallow. :) Over the years, however, I have prayed for patience. That is the message for this week: If you want to succeed, if you want happiness, pray for patience. Next week I will wrap up this series and have a special surprise (some of you may have already guessed). Now to lead into the Catholic Community Service testimony, I want to say this: We need patience not only to succeed personally but also to help others. In my younger days when people came for help, I used to quickly give them something, maybe $5, mainly to get rid of the person. I don't do that any more not because I'm cheap (well, maybe a little) but it's better to talk with the person and help find a resource, maybe St. Vincent de Paul or Catholic Community Services. I ask you now to give your full attention to _________________.
Homily from Saint Vincent Archabbey, Latrobe,Pa
Saint Vincent Archabbey
3 Advent
Third Sunday of Advent, Classic Sunday,
December 11, 2016 Matthew 11:2-11
Gospel Summary

John the Baptist, in prison, sent his disciples to Jesus with the question, "Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” Jesus replied that the outcasts of society were being helped, and the poor were receiving good news. As the disciples were going off, Jesus told the crowds that John was the messenger sent by God to prepare the way for the promised one. Life Implications John, sitting in Herod’s prison, was quite aware of the situation in Judea. His beleaguered nation, now a province of the Roman Empire, for centuries had suffered under the oppressive rule of foreign powers.

The people were victims of heavy taxation, violence, and even the desecration of their holy places and traditions. At times their own political and religious leaders were unfaithful and oppressive. In face of this pervasive evil, John believed that his mission was to prepare the way for the "coming wrath,” when God would finally destroy the evil-doers and establish his kingdom. John’s disciples, probably with some hesitation, told him that Jesus made no mention of the "coming wrath.” Nor was there anything about rescuing John from prison. Instead, he talked about the blind, the lame, lepers, the deaf, the dead, and about poor people getting good news.

Jesus, realizing that his message might not fit John’s expectation, added the remark about the blessedness of the one who hears his words, and does not lose trust in him. We may find ourselves in situations of violence, suffering and confusion; and we too will have expectations of how God will intervene. Isn’t our expectation that God’s presence will be some manifestation of superior power to make things right? Jesus realized that only the humble power of God’s love can vanquish the reign of evil and bring about a new kingdom of justice and peace. Love must actualize itself in defending and promoting the God-given rights of every human being—the fundamental right to live and the right to participate with dignity in the life of the community. Love, which seems most weak, most impractical, most foolish in the face of evil, is the only force that can change the human heart. Only if we are able, like John, to be freed of our own expectations, will we be able to welcome the coming of the Lord and his way of love. Then we, also like John, may prepare the way for others to welcome the Lord’s coming. Campion P. Gavaler, O.S.B.
Homily from Father Alex McAllister SDS
3 Advent
Third Sunday of Advent
Homily by Father Alex McAllister SDS

Last week we heard about the ministry of John the Baptist and the text we read was taken from the very beginning of St Matthew's Gospel after the section we call the Infancy Narrative and just before the account of Jesus' Baptism. Today the Gospel jumps forward to Chapter Eleven and describes an incident which took place right in the middle of Jesus' public ministry. By this time, John the Baptist was languishing in prison and it wouldn't be too long before he lost his head at the hands of King Herod. John the Baptist wants to know if Jesus really is the Messiah whom he has foretold.

So he sends his disciples to Jesus to quiz him and to discover if he was the one foretold. Jesus gives them this message to take to John the Baptist, ‘the blind see again, and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, and the dead are raise to life and the Good News is proclaimed to the poor.' These words would surely bring great joy and satisfaction to John the Baptist. On hearing them he would realise that his mission was now fulfilled, that the Messiah had truly come into the world. Jesus then goes on to tell the people of the importance of John the Baptist. He acknowledges that John was a tough messenger who distained his own personal comforts for the sake of the message he came to proclaim. He tells them that there is no one greater than John the Baptist but adds the words, ‘Yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he is.'

By this Jesus emphasises the importance of heaven as the true goal of every follower of his. He stresses that those who ultimately gain admittance to the Kingdom are indeed blessed. Heaven is our true destiny, it is for this that we were created in the beginning. But God does not want us to arrive in heaven simply because it is our destiny. No, his desire is that we get to heaven as the result of exercising our own free will. He wants us to get to heaven because at a certain point in our lives we have made a decision and we chose to reject sin and to embrace his Gospel of love. We can draw a useful distinction between us and the animals. The animals do not exercise free will, they live their lives at a purely instinctual level. There is a gradation, however, since some animals exist in a rather primitive state and seem to operate at a very simple level. We could take the earthworm as an example. It simply lives in the soil feeding and excreting and mating and doing little else. Other animals such as the family dog seem to have much more about them.

Dogs, for example, have a range of highly developed senses, they have a memory and they exhibit admirable qualities such as loyalty and they are even able to express emotions such as joy and sorrow. Although dogs can show expression through barking, which definitely conveys a certain level of meaning, they have not developed language which they would need in order to express a deeper range of feeling and thought.

So although dogs are fine animals and make wonderful companions for us they do not have the capacity to exercise free will. The exercise of free will requires self-consciousness as well as the ability to use language and to master higher thought. It is important that we are able to reflect on our state of being and be able to evaluate our actions and make decisions to adjust them as well as being able to adhere to a moral code of conduct. Without these abilities we cannot make truly free choices in life and even with them we are sometimes subject to unconscious desires and other limitations which take a deal of effort to break free from. Humanity is certainly one of the greatest of God's creations and it is his desire that, when our time on this earth has come to an end, we are able to share in his life in the eternal realm. We need to be also clear that when Jesus says that the least one in the Kingdom of Heaven is greater than John the Baptist we should not take this as meaning to put John the Baptist down since the Church acknowledges that he is among the greatest of all the saints. This is simply Jesus' way of helping us to realise to just what a high place God wants to raise us at the moment of our death.

An important thing to remember is that God works in history. This should be no surprise since it was God who created history and we should regard time itself as one of the greatest of God's creations. God, of course, exists completely outside time but since our human life is contained entirely within time it is impossible for us to comprehend his state of being. Having created time God uses it to bring to fruition his plans for our salvation. He waits centuries before he intervenes in time in order to send his Son into the world. It takes a long period of development until humanity eventually reaches an understanding that there is only one God and is ready to accept that he is a God of love. Only when we have arrived at that point are we are ready to receive the Messiah.

And once Jesus completed his work of salvation and returned to the Father we know that we will wait also for a very long time until God decides that everything is sufficiently ready so that he can bring creation to its final culmination on the Last Day. This brings us back to Advent with its twin themes of waiting: waiting to celebrate the anniversary of the Birth of the Messiah and waiting for the Last Coming—the final Day of Judgement. But this waiting is not an idle thing because while we are waiting we are also preparing. We are preparing for a great religious feast but also preparing ourselves to face judgement on that final Day of Days. We are half way through Advent already; we will soon be moving up a gear as we arrive at the period of the immediate preparation for Christmas. Let us not get so caught up in the festivities and all the Christmas fripperies that we neglect the real meaning of this beautiful season of Advent. Let us not focus so much on making New Year's Resolutions which tend to be rather secular, far better for us to make some Advent Resolutions. In this holy season let us make some decisions in the spiritual and moral areas of our lives, decisions that will really make a difference to our eternal welfare. A good way of doing this is to take advantage of the many opportunities for individual confession that are coming up here at St Joseph's and in our surrounding parishes.
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