9 December 20182 Advent

Homily from Father James Gilhooley
2 Advent
Second Sunday of Advent - Cycle C
Luke 3:1-6

A story is told of a soldier who asked a monk, "Teach me the difference between heaven and hell." The monk said, "You are an obvious coward, not a warrior. Furthermore, I believe you do not know how to use that gun." The soldier was so enraged that he drew his revolver from his holster to shoot the monk. As he prepared to squeeze the trigger, the monk said calmly, "That's hell." The abashed soldier immediately came to his senses and placed his gun back in its holster. And the monk said quietly, "That's heaven." In twenty-one days, we shall salute the feast when heaven came to earth as a Child. As a fitting preparation for that feast this second week of Advent, why doesn't each of us attempt to reproduce heaven on earth in the here and now? Why need we wait for Christmas day itself? I met a person today who was busy doing such. She makes barely above a minimum wage at her job. Her employer gives her neither medical plan nor pension. Yet, despite my words of caution, she mailed a check for $200 to the Red Cross for the victims of a major hurricane. She was giving not from her surplus but from her household funds. It was you might say her birthday gift to the Christ. Using Matthew (25:34-37) as a yardstick, I wager Jesus will never forget it.

And Matthew 19:29 promises He will return the gift to her a thousandfold. The Master will not be outdone in generosity. I submit the monk of the opening story would say to that valiant woman, "While the hurricane damage is hell, your gift is heaven." That generous woman deserves not only our commendation and admiration but also imitation in some form by ourselves these next several weeks. She is what this season of Advent is all about. The Son was generous enough to leave the heavens to become what we are. Why then are we not generous enough to reproduce the heavens immediately in our own corner of this global village? Luke in today's Gospel tells us John went about the whole Jordan district preaching repentance for the forgiveness of sins. We like to think that the Baptizer was speaking to hardened sinners. But, as William Bausch points out, he was doing nothing of the sort. The record shows he was preaching not to criminals but to the Pharisees, Scribes, and Publicans.

These were, as we like to say, good church-going folk. In a word, he was excoriating people who are stand-ins for our own selves. Bausch's insight brings us up short, for most of us privately look upon ourselves as just about the salt of the earth. Unhappily John the Baptizer would not be a member of our fan club. In Matthew's Gospel (1:7-8), the Baptizer is on the record saying to the same audience as well as ourselves, "You vipers' brood!...prove your repentance by the fruit it bears." I think one of the few he might exempt from his indictment would be the woman of the above who gave the $200 to the hurricane's victims. But the rest of us could expect to receive hot tongue and cold shoulder from him. John the Baptist is certainly no man to mess around with. John, our decidedly unamused mentor this season, commands, "...prove your repentance by the fruit it bears."

William Bausch offers some suggestions as to how we might accommodate the Baptizer. "Make friends with someone you're at odds with. Pick up the phone and talk to somebody you haven't talked to in months or years. Be the first to hold out the hand of reconciliation even though it gets slapped or rejected. Don't turn your head at shady dealings. Be willing to put some of your possessions on the line. Tithe, not out of your excess, but out of your substance. Add up your Christmas spending bills that you chalked up for presents and then slice off 10 percent and give it to the poor. Give evidence that you mean to repent." Sally Koch reminds us that great opportunities to help others seldom come but small ones surround us every day. It takes only a minute to be kind, but the prophet reminds us the end result can remain forever and a day. This Advent put a wraparound smile on the face of John the Baptist. He sounds as though he needs some cheering-up. 

Homily from Father Joseph Pellegrino
2 Advent
Second Sunday of Advent: Our Need for a Savior

Today's first reading is from the Book of Baruch. Baruch had been a disciple of the prophet Jeremiah. This was at the time of the Babylonian conquest and the exile of the people of Kingdom of Judah, about 588 BC. Most of the people were led in chains to Babylon. Some were taken by other nations. Some, like those who held Jeremiah, fled to Egypt. Baruch's prophecy is that the time is coming when the hand of God would prevail over the captors and the people would return from their exile. And that time did come when Cyrus of Persia conquered the Babylonians and sent all the captive people back to the homelands. So what? I mean, what does this have to do with us, living 2,600 years later? Why should we be concerned with the historical events of 25 centuries ago? Well, if we stay on the plain of history, these events really don't have anything to do with us. But, if we go beyond history and consider the human condition, then the readings are all about us.

The Hebrews were brought into exile not just because they were weaker than their neighbors, but because they deserted the God who had formed them into His people. No, they had not stopped worshiping in the Temple, but their faith in God was very much just lip service. They joined in with the pagan customs of those around them. They practiced pagan immorality. They even offered their children for child sacrifice to the pagan gods. They adopted pagan glorification of the material over the spiritual. For all these sins, God let them be led into exile. Once in exile, the people realized that there was no hope for them to free themselves. They were captives of a powerful kingdom. They realized that they were completely dependent on God to free them. They needed Him to work his Power and Might for them. Baruch prophesied that God would deliver them. And he did. The condition the Hebrew people were in is not all that different than our human condition. So many people give lip service to religion, but live as pagans. So many people join in with the glorification of the material over the spiritual. Immorality attacks us every day. Sometimes it is out in the world. Sometimes it is within our families.

Often it is within each of us. We want to, we have to fight evil, but it is stronger than we are, at least then we are left by ourselves. So we call upon God to deliver us from evil. He is more powerful than any thing that is attacking us. He frees us from all that holds us captive. In his book, Starlight, John Shea presents a well known story of a people who needed to recognize their frailty and need for God. I believe this story can help us understand why we call out to God every Advent. The story is the Wolf of Gubbio. Back in the 13th century Italy there was a beautiful city named Gubbio nestled in the foothills of the Apennines. The city had magnificent Churches, a splendid civic building, a beautiful piazza for meetings and people who were very, very proud of their city. When the people from Gubbio traveled to another part of Italy, they would be recognized by their dress just as all people of that epoch wore the distinctive clothing of their village. They would also be recognized by their haughtiness. "We are from Gubbio," they would proclaim with their words and their mannerisms. They were proud, defiant and very full of themselves. One night in the early fall a shadowy figure lurked out of the woods near Gubbio. It made its way through the streets and the alleys of the city. The next morning a terrible discovery was made in Gubbio.

One of the citizens of the city, an elderly man, was found dead in the street. He was bloodied. Bones were broken. He appeared to be mauled. Everyone was afraid. "Some stranger must have come to our city and done this horrible thing," someone said. Everyone agreed. That night, for the first time, everyone locked their doors. Everyone stayed inside, everyone except for one lady. She was found dead the next morning. As the people gathered around her body another lady called out. "I saw what happened. It was a wolf. I saw a wolf walk right down the street by my house last night. A big grey wolf." All that day, the talk of the town was, "What are we going to do? How are we going to get this wolf out of Gubbio?" Two young men heard about the wolf and decided that this was a wonderful opportunity for them. They would stay up that night and kill the wolf. Then everyone in town would appreciate them and reward them for the rest of their lives. So they stayed up and hunted the wolf. Only the wolf found them first. As the towns people gathered around their bodies, some said, "We will have to call for military assistance." But others said, ‘No, then all of Italy will know that there is a wolf in Gubbio. People will mock us. No one will ever visit our city again. No merchants will come to trade with us." And they cried, "What will we do? What will we do?"

A young girl in the crowd said, "I heard that in one of our neighboring cities there is a holy man who talks to animals. Why don't we ask him to talk to the wolf." Some people thought that she was crazy, but no one had a better idea. So they sent a delegation to the neighboring city with the mission to find the holy man and to have him tell the wolf to obey God's commandments. "Tell the wolf to go someplace else. Perhaps he can tell the wolf to go to Perugia. They deserve a wolf in Perugia. Perhaps he can tell the wolf to go to Spoleto. They wouldn't even recognize a wolf in Spoleto." The delegation went to that city and found out that indeed there was a holy man there who had a reputation of talking to animals. They found him on the outskirts of the city, reconstructing an old Church with some of his followers. He was short and frail and wore a dirty brown habit. They told him their problem and asked him to talk to the wolf for them. "Tell him to obey God's commandments. Tell him to go someplace else." Perugia seemed to be the best place for a wolf to go.

That evening the holy man traveled to Gubbio and entered the woods on the outskirts of the city. He walked for a little while when he came upon the beast. "Brother wolf," he said, "we need to talk." The next morning the holy man was standing in the Piazza of Gubbio by their beautiful fountain. The people gathered around and asked. "Did you find the wolf. Did you tell him to obey God's commandments? Did you show him how to get to Perugia?" The Holy Man just stood on the steps of fountain and said, "This is what you are to do. Feed your wolf." "Our wolf," they said. He's not our wolf." But the Holy Man just said again, "Feed your wolf," and he moved through the crowd and went back to his own city. That night the long grey figure lurked again through the city. The wolf went up one street, then the next, and then down an alley. Suddenly, a door opened and a plate of meat was pushed outside. The wolf ate the meat and went away. The next evening the wolf came back. He went down that same street and into that same alley. Another door opened. Another plate of meat was pushed outside. Again the wolf ate and left. After a while everyone one in the city, every single family, had fed the wolf. Now, when they would travel from city to city and people would ask them where they were from, they would say, ‘Gubbio."

The people would then ask, "Gubbio, don't you have a wolf in Gubbio?" And they would respond. "Yes, and we feed our wolf in Gubbio." Now that holy man, of course, was Francis of Assisi. The story goes that the same year that Francis taught the people of Gubbio to feed their wolf, he began the tradition of the Christmas crib and celebrating midnight Mass around the crib. This took place on the land of John of Grecco. According to legend, on that first Midnight Mass around the crib, the manger was empty, but John of Grecco and others saw a baby in the manger sleeping. When after the Gospel Francis, who was a deacon, began to preach, the baby opened its eyes. Many people were drawn to Assisi by Francis' simplicity. They also wanted to see that first Christmas crib. Of course there were also animals drawn to that crib. There were sheep and oxen, cows, dogs, a donkey or two, and they tell us, at that first Christmas crib there was also a wolf. The point of the strange story is that the people had been so arrogant that they didn't recognize their need for a Savior. When Francis told them to feed their wolf, he was telling them to realize their need for God. If we are haughty and above it all, how can we possibly appreciate the gift of a child in a manger? How can we even want the gift of a child in a manger if we are so taken with our own splendor. Why should we who wear gold and silver be drawn to a child in rags? Do we even need a Savior if we are so convinced of our innate goodness?

But if we recognize our frailty, we then will understand our need for the Son of God to redeem us from ourselves. Then we can appreciate the wonder of Christmas, the wonder of the birth of Jesus. The wolf in Gubbio is our own frail humanity, our sinfulness, needing the hand of a Savior to feed us, to keep us from destroying ourselves and others. The wolf of Gubbio reminds us that we are dependent on the mercy of God. This brings us back to the first story, the history of the freeing of the Hebrew People from captivity in Babylon. This is an analogy of the infinite mercy of God freeing us from the forces of evil. Pope Francis often reminds us that we need God's mercy. One of the themes of his papacy is that God's mercy is greater than our deepest hope and need. Pope Francis loves saying that the only limits to God's mercy are those we put on God. We stop seeking mercy because we decide that our sins are too terrible to be forgiven.

We are wrong. We need His mercy. And He wants us to receive his mercy. God sees what evil is doing to our world. He is greater than evil. He sees what evil is doing to each of us. He sees how much we need to be freed from evil. He has compassion on us. We live under the mercy of God. "I will sing of your mercy that leads us through valleys of sorrow to rivers of joy," Jars of Clay sang in the Valley Song. © CCLI License #2368115 We who have been forgiven need to proclaim to the world the mercy of God. A wonderful way to prepare for Christmas is to recognize the need for Christ in our lives. He is the one who fills our emptiness. He is the one who completes our inadequacies. And what a gift he is! If our emptiness and our inadequacies are filled by Jesus Christ, then we thank God for our need for his presence. We thank God for leading us to call out to his Son. We thank God for the need that he alone can fill. We thank God that there is a wolf in Gubbio. And we proclaim to the world that sees us as frail humans, that yes, we have a wolf. But we feed our wolf. We feed our wolf with that merciful presence whose birth we will celebrate on December 25th. "Rejoice, Jerusalem! For your Savior is in your midst." And God knows, we need Him.

Homily from Father Phil Bloom
* Available in Spanish - see Spanish Homilies
2 Advent
Second Advent Virtue: Generosity (December 9, 2018)

Bottom line: Today we have the opportunity to exercise the virtue of generosity, by praying for and giving to Catholic Community Services. For Advent homilies I am using St.Paul's prayer, asking God to "strengthen your hearts". Strength as we saw last week is another word for virtue. On each Sunday of Advent we ask for a specific virtue. Last Sunday we asked for the virtue of patience. We heard Jesus speak about vigilance - patient waiting. Patience is essential for our relationship with God and each other. One of the greatest things we can learn is delayed gratification - patience. Patience, we saw, is like a muscle. It becomes stronger by exercise. Each day God sends tests to exercise patience. In the Bible God often tells us to fast, for example, to abstain from some savory food for a day. The penitential practice of fasting trains a person in delayed gratification. I now move to another penitential practice which in fact is our second Advent virtue. Along with fasting comes almsgiving - also know as generosity.

To most people generosity comes easier than fasting or patience. For sure children have to learn to share, that is, to learn generosity. And I've known guys who when the restaurant bill comes, they can outfumble anyone. Most people, though, are eager to be generous. In comparison with patience, generosity comes easy. There is a hitch, however. For generosity to be a true virtue, it has to be done thoughtfully and consistently. Jesus speaks about Stewardship - wisely administering God's gifts. It's one thing to see an unfortunate person and give him a five dollars. It's something else to support an organization like St. Vincent de Paul or Catholic Community Services (CCS).

We'll hear a testimony about CCS at the end of the homily. Archbishop Sartain places great importance on CCS. As Vicar for Catholic Charities (which oversees CCS) the archbishop appointed one of our finest young priests - Fr. Brad Hagelin. By supporting Catholic Community Services we practice generosity. John the Baptist shows how to do it. He fulfills Isaiah's prophecy about making rough ways smooth. And how do we fill those potholes so the rough road becomes a highway? Well, John says, "Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise." That's generosity - our second Advent virtue. Next week we'll see the third Advent virtue. Hint: It's the virtue parents most want for their children. That's for next Sunday. Today we have the opportunity to exercise generosity, by supporting Catholic Community Services. With that in mind I ask you to give your full attention to CCS representative

Homily from Saint Vincent Archabbey, Latrobe, Pa
Saint Vincent Archabbey
2 Advent

Homily from Father Alex McAllister SDS
2 Advent
Second Sunday of Advent

Although we would expect the liturgy at this time of the year to be pointing towards the birth of Christ and so to the city of Bethlehem it actually points us not to Bethlehem but to Jerusalem. The Prophet Baruch gives us a beautiful poem about the restoration of the people of Israel to Jerusalem after their captivity in Babylon. The idea of Jerusalem gazing towards the east in anticipation of the return of the people from exile is truly marvellous and fits in perfectly with the idea of the Church watching and waiting for the second coming of Christ. This theme of waiting for Christ is also highlighted in the second reading where Paul urges the Christian community in Philippi to increase their love for each other so that they will be ready to meet Christ when he comes in glory.

The extract from Luke's Gospel chosen for today begins the account of the life of Jesus with the appearance of John the Baptist. In this short passage Luke locates John in both secular history and salvation history. Regarding John's place in human history, Luke is very precise about the secular dates and gives all the important persons major and minor as reference points, as one did in those days to make sure that there was no confusion as to who we are talking about. And he locates John in salvation history. He is presented to us as the final prophet of the Old Testament, the one foretold by Isaiah, the voice crying in the wilderness. Unlike Mark and Matthew, Luke tells us nothing about John's dietary habits, locusts and wild honey, or how he dressed, in camel skin. Luke solely focuses on John's preaching of repentance. Neither does Luke tell us very much about John's ministry of baptism. It gets a mention, but only in passing. Even Jesus' baptism takes up only two verses, almost as an afterthought. John doesn't make another appearance in Luke's Gospel, as soon as Jesus is firmly on the scene the Baptist bows out. So, for Luke, John is the last and most important of the Old Testament prophets. His task is to announce the impending arrival of Jesus. Quoting Isaiah, John proclaims: All mankind shall see the salvation of our God.

In other words, "Salvation is at hand, Jesus is here, so repent and get ready." So, although we are in our preparation for Christmas and Christ's first coming, we are directed also to his second coming as judge and Saviour and the end of time. Yes, we look to Bethlehem but also to Jerusalem. To Jerusalem the earthly city as the place where our salvation was brought about on the hill of Calvary and out of the tomb in the hillside; but also to Jerusalem, the heavenly city, the fulfilment of all that we have longed for. These are the historical and spiritual facts that make up the story of our salvation. The events leading to our salvation take place in specific places and at certain times and particular persons are involved: Abraham, Moses, David, Mary, John the Baptist, etc. The preoccupation with dates and times and places is important: in the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar's reign, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea… and: John went through the whole Jordan district. The facts are important because we are talking about actual events that happened in historical time and in a particular place. God didn't create mankind and then leave him alone to get on with things.

No, God intervened. He intervened in history. He intervened with Noah. He intervened with Abraham. He intervened with Moses. He intervened with David, with Mary and with John the Baptist. All these interventions were part of the greatest intervention of all: the sending of his Son into our world to bring us salvation. Although what I have just said might sound obvious, it is all too easy to let go of it, it is all too easy to fail to recognise just what has happened. It is much easier, and so many people do it, to slip into thinking that we don't actually need to be saved. It is easy to believe that what we have been talking about are nice Bible stories suitable for children or naïve people, but whatever we need to do we can do for ourselves. It is all too easy to hear one's self thinking that if there is a God and I come before him for judgement he will surely give me top marks. After all, none of the sins I've committed has been very serious; and even the bad ones are perfectly explainable. Surely, he will give me nine out of ten without me having to trouble myself at all. This is very easy to do, I caught myself doing it just the other day.

I was just going from one room in the house to another and caught myself thinking: I'll be all right, God will understand. I pulled myself up right away, thank God. But it only goes to show how easy it is to excuse oneself, to be the judge in your own case, to avoid thinking that you are in sin. The problem is that even when we do acknowledge our few sins we also think that we can win our own salvation; we think we can accomplish all that is important in life by ourselves. We think that, on the whole, we are quite good and that God would be better off busying himself with the bad people down the road. The only problem is, that isn't what God thinks. He thinks you and I certainly do need some intervention. He thinks that the only thing that will save us is for us to accept the teaching of his Son. He thinks that we had better shape up. He thinks that we had better learn a few things. His lessons are not harsh, far from it. But we had better learn them. And what is it that he tells us? That we need to experience more deeply the love of God; that we need to acknowledge our dependence on him; that we need to turn to him for moments of intimate communion all through the day; that we need to come together with other Christians more and more often to celebrate the sacraments, the channels of his love par excellence. He tells us that we need to get to know Jesus and realise the depth of the salvation he won for us. The first lesson of the season of Advent is that God actually has intervened in human history.

The second lesson of Advent is that he hasn't stopped intervening in human history. And he hasn't stopped intervening in the history of the human beings that are you and me, and that we ought to realise this and co-operate with his plans for us. There are past, present and future dimensions to this. We know Christ came on that first Christmas day and we know he will come at the end of time. But what we often fail to acknowledge is that he is coming into our lives right now. As it says: today is the day of salvation. And just as he intervened in the lives of Abraham, Moses, David, Mary, John the Baptist so he is intervening in our lives. Your presence in this place and in this Church and in this family and in this moment is not by any accident, it is in the eternal plan of God.

Advent is about expectation; about expecting the first and second comings of Christ. One is far in the past and the other is far in the future (or so we tend to hope), but what about the here and now? Should we not expect Christ to come into our hearts right now? Yes, of course we should! So, let us echo the prayer of the early Church and make it our own: Come, Lord Jesus, come. Yes, Lord, come into our hearts right this minute, come and bring us your healing and salvation. Come and fill us with your joy and hope. Come into our lives and make us perfect followers of your word. Come and save us, come and be with us. And in the words of Paul: Come Lord and increase our love, help us to be pure and blameless, help us to reach your perfect goodness so we may give glory and praise to God.

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