15 December 20193 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
Msgr. Joseph A. Pellegrino

Third Sunday of Advent: Whom Are We looking for?

I would like to speak to you today about the prophets.  The Hebrew Scriptures, the Old Testament, is full of dynamic leaders.  There is Noah and Moses, Abraham and David.  There are kings and queens, male and female judges, patriarchs and matriarchs.  But of all the people in the Hebrew Scriptures, the most dynamic are the prophets: Samuel, Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and so many others.  They challenged the world and drew people to listen, to change, to follow.  Some stood up to the King in support of justice, "How dare you put Uriah to death so you can have Bathsheba his wife," Nathan said to King David. "How dare you put Nabaoth to death so you can steal his vineyard," Elijah said to King Ahab.

Some prophets were so powerful that they would determine who would reign as King.  The prophet Samuel was told by God to anoint Saul to be king, and then he was told to reject Saul and anoint the youngest son of Jesse,  David.  Some prophets drew the attention of the entire nation yet spoke in symbolic ways like the prophet Hosea who married Gomer, a woman of ill repute, as a sign of the way that God's people had treated him.  Others spoke directly to the people of God's power, his compassion and his love, like Isaiah in our first reading for today.  Some prophets were mystics like Ezekiel.  Some were on the inner loop with the king, counselors like Jeremiah.  Others were just common everyday people, like Amos, a dresser of trees.

The prophets were all very different one from the other, but their message was the same: Repent and reform.  Return your lives to your God, and the Lord will come and be with his people.  Nothing, not torture, not death, not even money would turn the prophet from his message or tempt him to abandon his faith.  In difficult times, the prophet would tell the people, "Hold on to your faith, the world will be transformed by the Lord when he comes." 

Sometimes their message was frightening, such as their predictions of the sufferings of the evil at the end of time.  Sometimes their message was consoling, like the message of the first reading for today, when Isaiah speaks about the desert blooming, the blind seeing and the deaf hearing.  But always their message to the people was to be strong in their faith.  The people needed to be ready for the Lord's coming.

The ancient people believed that as long as there was a prophet among them, they were blessed.  God was communicating to his people.  If there was no prophet, then that was a sign that somehow the people's sins had turned God away from them.

By the time of Jesus' life, it had been two hundred years since the people of Israel had last had a prophet in their midst.  Two hundred years.  Two hundred years of no intimate communication with God. 

And then, John the Baptist appeared.  He was dynamic.  His message wasn't new: he told the people to repent and reform and prepare for their God.  That was the same as all the prophets.  But there was a power these people had never seen before in his words.  And John added something;  He said that God is coming now. The Kingdom of God is at hand.  People were drawn to John.  It was obvious to them that God was once more blessing his people. 

John did not offer people a semi-spiritual semi-emotional experience.  He demanded that the people remain faithful to their traditions.  He followed Isaiah's first reading for today, "Strengthen the knees that are weak, the hands that are feeble, and say, "Be strong, fear not.  Here is your God."  John was not a fad.  He was not a reed in the wind, changing the way it leans with every new gust of air, every new whim.  John was a rock anchored on his faith in God.  His infectious dynamism led people to a strict adherence to their faith.  They accepted his baptism as a sign of their participation in a new world order, the Kingdom of God.

We modern people are also looking for a prophet.  But what type of prophet are we looking for?  What type of prophecy do we seek?  Are we looking for a prophet like John who is going to tell us to hold on to our faith, change those hidden parts of our lives that are self-destructive?  Maybe he will tell us to give up that grudge we love to nourish, or perhaps it is that secret little vice that is only a secret from our conscience but quite apparent to all around us.  Are we looking for someone to tell us to stand up for our faith, or are we looking for a reed shaken by the wind?  We have got to admit it, there is a part of all of us that would love to hear someone tell us that certain of our secrets are now no longer sinful.  We'd love to hear someone say, "These are modern times, this or that is OK now, even if it was unacceptable before." We'd love to follow a reed that is bent by the winds of moral decay.  But then we would not be listening to a prophet.  We would not be listening to God's dynamic voice.  We would only be hearing our own selfishness.

Whom do we go out to the desert to see?  Someone who will give us a lovely emotional experience while permitting us to compromise on morality.  Or do we go out to the desert to see someone who will encourage us to stand up against the pressures our society places upon us to compromise our consciences.  We come to Church not for entertainment, not to see our beautiful children, but for the strength to be ready for the Lord to enter our lives.

Homily from Father Phil Bloom
* Available in Spanish - see Spanish Homilies
3 Advent
God Has a Plan
(December 15, 2019)

Bottom line: What looks random does have behind it a plan - and a Planner.

As you can see from our Advent Wreath - and from my vestments - today's color is pink, symbol of rejoicing. I've noticed this at gender reveal parties. If blue balloons come down, the parents try to look happy, even jump up and down, start hugging each other. Still, they are thinking: maybe we'll do better next time. (smile) Blue is OK, but pink is the color of rejoicing.

On my pink vestment you can see an appropriate saint: Rose of Lima. Next week I'll be visiting her shrine. It has a famous well where people can drop notes with prayer intentions. I'll be taking yours.

This year I'll be at the Mary Bloom Center for Christmas and New Years. Part of the reason is so college students and teachers can take advantage of their winter break. Replacing me at St. Mary of the Valley is a fine priest - Fr. Alfredo Velazquez. The last five months he has served at St. Pius in Mountlake Terrace. We are blessed to have Fr. Fredo.

With Christmas near, today is a day to rejoice.

It does seem ironic that on this day of rejoicing we have the Gospel about St. John the Baptist is prison. John appears sad, even despairing. About Jesus he asks, "Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?" Even John wavers. Commenting on today's Gospel, Bishop Daniel Muggenborg observes:

"To a person of faith, the witness of God's love and providence is abundantly clear. To a person who lacks faith, life is nothing but chance and coincidence."

If person concludes that everything is random chance, it's bound to have an effect. So many people feel like they are living in a dark prison. You can see it in the increase in addictive behavior: drugs, porn, gambling. These things promise peace and maybe even provide a moment to forget one's problems. In the end they bring increased emptiness.

This happens also with social media. Sean Parker, one of their billionaire investors, acknowledges that Facebook and other platforms are deliberately designed to be addictive.

I admit I spend time on Facebook. When I am in Peru it's one of my main ways of communicating. It's free and it works pretty well, but I know it can absorb a lot of time and work like a drug.

Along with addictions comes depression and for some, suicidal thoughts. In spite of our abundance, freedom and opportunities, suicide has increased dramatically - even among young people who have everything to live for. There's a lot of reasons but much of it involves what Bishop Mueggenborg points out - a lack of faith that leads to despair. What's the answer?

Let's consider Jesus response to John: Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.

During Advent we focus on connecting with the downtrodden and afflicted. We had things like the Christmas Giving Tree, Catholic Community Service testimony, St. Vincent de Paul commitment renewal. Outreach has formed part of our youth program both for Confirmation candidates and Ignite Nights. When we reach out to the afflicted - even in our own families - it turns our hearts to God.

St. Teresa of Calcutta, when she noticed her sisters showing signs of sadness, would say "get out with the people".

You don't need an addiction-free life to come to Jesus. Some saints struggled all their lives with addictions and terrible depression. Like John the Baptist, however, they recognize that what looks random does have behind it a plan - and a Planner. God has a plan, a providence we can know by faith.

Young people want that faith, that trust. You can see it in this year's most popular Scripture verse. I was going to conclude with it, but I will save it for a Flocknote this week. Instead let's listen again to St. James' inspired words:

"Be patient, brothers and sisters, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth... You too must be patient." Amen

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

Homily from Father Alex McAllister SDS
3 Advent
Third Sunday of Advent

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 prophesied about. 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 very 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 certainly 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 Penitential Service on Monday.
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