6 December 20202 Advent

Homily from Father James Gilhooley
2 Advent
Second Sunday of Advent - B Cycle - Mark 1:1-8
A theologian had a painting of the crucifixion in his study. It showed John the Baptist with a long bony finger pointing to Jesus. One day a visitor asked, "What is your job?" The theologian walked over to the painting and said, "I am that finger." Do our lives point people to Christ? Or do they turn them away from Him? Before you answer, remember what Gandhi said, "I would have become a Christian if ever I had met one."
In a recent year, Joseph Donders writes, "One third of
all the books in the United States were written on Jesus." 
Given that remarkable fact, can you fault the Church setting up the training camp season that is Advent at the opening of a new Liturgical year? The Church gives us four weeks to burn off ten pounds of ugly spiritual fat. Thus we will be properly ready to greet the Nazarene on His annual Christmas visit.
St Mark today in 1:1 heralds Him without any hesitation as "Jesus Christ the Son of God." He shows no doubt, no hesitation. Talk about clearing the decks for action. Plato wrote, "To find the maker and father of this universe is a hard task; and when you have found him, it is impossible to speak of him before all people." I do not know whether the Evangelist Mark ever read that line while working in Rome with St Peter. But one point is certain. Mark tells us in in this Gospel he disagrees with Plato. Elizabeth Vanek catches the spirit of this season: "Advent is the season of the pilgrim God...We often speak of our journey towards God, but, in reality, it is God who does most of the traveling." The last four miles you might say He leaves to us. The ideal would be to cover one mile in each of these Advent weeks. The first mile should already be behind us. The slowest of us can walk a mile weekly in even the oldest sneakers.
Instead of selling out, a bishop suggests that our challenge is to stand out. This Advent abstain from food one day each week to better understand what hunger is. And why not give 10% of your income to a charity? Stand out.
Advent is designed to bring out Abraham Lincoln's better angel in us. We should be advancing toward the peace this season promises. And, as Donders says, "peace is the opposite of pieces; to be at peace means to be of one piece."
We should all make this verse quoted by William Barclay the capstone of this Advent: "In youth, because I could not be a singer, I did not even write a song. I set no little trees along the roadside because I knew their growth would take so long. But now from the wisdom that the years have brought me, I know that it may be a blessed thing to plant a tree for someone else to water or make a song for someone else to sing."
John the Baptizer's message can be summed up in that one
word, "Repent." In Mark 1:5, the Master Himself also went on
the record, "Repent and believe in the Gospel."
What better way to turn over that famous new leaf than
arranging a prime time rendezvous with the Teacher in confession.
St Augustine wrote, "The confession of evil works is the first beginning of good works." Barclay notes that it is only when we say, "I am a sinner" that Jesus can say, "I forgive." CS Lewis writes that though God made us without our consent, He will not save us without our permission.
And, as we walk away from that encounter with the Master, dwell on the story that says that Christ takes all our confessed sins and hurls them to the bottom of a deep lake. Then on the lake shores, He nails a large sign that reads "NO FISHING."
George Eliot reminds us, "It's but little good you'll do watering last year's crops."
A woman had a vision of Jesus. She went and told her priest. He said, "I will not believe unless your Christ tells you my sins. The woman returned. The priest asked what his sins were. She replied, "Jesus said He has forgotten them."
It is well said that if you want God to be pleased with you, then you must please God. Confession would be a good start.
The monk says that this Christmas, instead of dreaming of and unhappy. Become a Christian that Gandhi would admire.

Homily from Father Joseph Pellegrino
2 Advent

Second Sunday of Advent: He Comes With Mercy

In their worst nightmare, they never thought their lives could get so bad. They really did it to themselves. The people of the first reading were the Chosen People. They celebrated their deliverance from Egypt every Passover. But they still pushed God aside, even out of their lives. They had become wealthy. They thought they had less need for God than ever before. It was almost as though they forgot about Him. Certainly, they were too proud to recognize their own weakness. The nations around them saw them as an important military ally. Full of themselves, they made treaties with the pagans. They worshiped the pagan gods of these nations. They diluted Yahweh’s faith and profaned the Holy Land.

Then, everything fell apart. First, the Northern Kingdom, Israel, was defeated and taken into captivity by the Assyrians. Then the Babylonians conquered the Southern Kingdom, Judah. The people were led off into slavery, bound together with hooks in their noses. The Temple and the Holy City were destroyed. They wanted to be like the pagans. Now they were forced to live in a pagan land and serve pagans. 

But in their poverty they became rich. They turned from their pagan ways. They embraced their identity as devout followers of Yahweh. They had no power except their faith in the All Powerful One. And they realized that they had more power than they could ever need. God witnessed their conversion. He heard their prayers. He sent His prophet to preach consolation for Israel:

“Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem and proclaim to them that their service is at an end, their guilt is expiated. Indeed, they have received double for their sins. But , now a voice cries out in the desert, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord.’” God will come with mercy.

Over and over in the history of God’s people as well as in our personal histories, the events that led to the Babylonian captivity are repeated. We think that we have it all. We allow evil to creep into our lives. We allow something to destroy us. Actually, we destroy ourselves by relying on our own abilities instead of the Power of God. But then we find ourselves completely alone. Through the Grace of God, through the prayers of others, we come to the Wisdom that we are only alone when we forget about Him who said He would always be with us. We are people of faith. We realize that no matter how bad life might have become, no matter how deep we or someone else may have sunk, there is no depth that God will not descend to in order to pick us up and grasp us to Himself. 

All of the saints have a profound sense of the deep mercy of God. All of the saints cry out with their lives, “He is coming with mercy, with forgiveness. Our comfort is in the Lord.”

God loves us so much that there is nothing that we might have done which excludes us from His compassion and consolation. We just need to have the humility to seek forgiveness, to let Him into our lives. 

What is it that we have done that has been so terrible? Have we destroyed others? Have we taken a life? Have we participated in an abortion? Have we destroyed our own lives? We are tempted to think that our sins are too great or too habitual for God to have compassion on us. Do we feel this way? Do we know others who feel this way? There is nothing that the Lord does not want to forgive. Jesus came to bring forgiveness, to bring mercy, to bring comfort. “Give comfort, comfort to my people,” the prophet is instructed. 

Sometimes we underestimate God. We think that maybe God can help us a bit, but to get Him to solve our dilemma, well that is asking too much. And to request over and over again that He forgive the same problem, well, that seems to be way beyond the limit of His compassion. We forget that God sets no limits to His Love. Perhaps we think that we do not deserve His mercy and compassion. We are correct there. We do not deserve Him, but that does not mean that He does not give Himself totally for us. Look at the cross. How can I look at the cross, how can you look at the cross and underestimate what our God will do out of Love for me and for you?

 “Prepare the way of the Lord,” both the prophet of the first reading and John the Baptist in the Gospel proclaim. Prepare the way of the Lord. Help others to realize that they are loved by their God. Yes, sometimes we may bottom out. Sometimes we may crash. But we are never so bad that God wants nothing to do with us. He cried over Jerusalem for its sins. He cries over us for our sins. There is no limit to God’s love, to His Mercy. Pope Francis reminds us that the only limit there is to God’s mercy is the limit that we put on His Mercy.

In the last century a devout Christian, Helen Lemmel, wrote a very simple little hymn. It is called Turn your eyes upon Jesus

Turn your eyes upon Jesus. 

Look full into his wonderful face. 

And the things of the earth will grow strangely dim. 

In the light of His Glory and Grace. 

In this season of gift giving, we can give a wonderful gift to ourselves and to others. This gift is the reassurance that Jesus loves us and loves them. We need to prepare ourselves and we need to prepare others to turn to Jesus, to trust in the Lord. 

“Comfort, give comfort to my people.”

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

Homily from Father Alex McAllister SDS
2 Advent

Mark is an Evangelist who doesn’t mess about. He goes headlong into things. As he tells us, here we have the beginning of his Gospel. Then in only the first eight verses that we have as our reading for today he briefly gives us an important prophecy from the prophet Isaiah, and then pushes John the Baptist on to the stage. But in four short verses he manages to sum up completely his whole life.

Then in the very next verse he brings on Jesus and, before you know it, has him baptised. We are swiftly moved on to Jesus temptation in the wilderness and by verse fourteen, before we have even turned the page, Mark launches into an account of Jesus’ public ministry. Whew!

It is breathtaking, and it is wonderful. Mark goes straight for it. He is a no-nonsense Evangelist, no frills, just the essentials. But you can understand his logic. It is after all Good News, and so why go around the houses. Get down to basics, and do it fast.

Not only is he swift but he is also uncompromising. We get the prophecy about a messenger coming before Jesus and as soon as he gives it to us Mark says: ‘…and so it was that John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness.’ No qualifications. From prophecy to fulfilment in one breath.

And not some people from Judea and not some people from Jerusalem went to receive Baptism from John. No, for Mark tells us it was all the people from Judea and all the people from Jerusalem.

Neither is it the Good News about Jesus who was a nice bloke and who from reading this story about him you might come round to thinking that he was the Son of God. No, for Mark, it is unequivocal. This is the Good News about Jesus, the Son of God.

Mark is a true believer and he is not going to hang around and wait for you to make up your mind. He gets in there and proclaims the Gospel. He is, in a way, just like John the Baptist—uncompromising. And I believe that is just how one should be with the Gospel—uncompromising. Why be anything other? Why water it down. Why apologise?

We have been given a precious treasure. We have been given a sacred duty by the High King of Heaven. In the words Mark himself uses, we have been instructed to ‘Go out to the whole world, proclaim the Good News to all creation.’

In his own way the prophet Isaiah is just as uncompromising: ‘Let every valley be filled in, every mountain and hill laid low.’ Plenty of work there for the JCB drivers in our congregation. And I’m sure they wouldn’t hang about either.

But Isaiah also gives us a tenderness that is found missing in Mark. Yes he has the trumpeter go up the high mountain to blare out his message at Jerusalem and he has the Lord coming in glory, with power and as a victor. But he also lets us know the gentler side that the Lord will be like a shepherd feeding his flock and gathering his lambs to his breast.

But what is all this about? The answer is clear: both Isaiah and Mark, in their somewhat similar but yet also quite different ways, are proclaiming to the world the most important event that ever happened or ever will happen to the human race —the incarnation of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.

This incomparable event that burst on the world over 2000 years ago deserves some direct language. And I suggest that it deserves some direct language even today, perhaps more especially today. People around us are watering our religion down, in fact we do it ourselves, ‘Oh, it’s only a small sin, God wouldn’t worry his head about that.’ Listen to yourselves saying it to yourself if not to others.

When it comes to Christmas even Christians reduce the holiest night of the year to the level of twittering robins on a glitter covered so-called Christmas card with a capital X. The razzmatazz of the multi-million pound shopping conglomerates has hijacked Christmas and reduced it to a saccharine coated message of shop-till-you-drop.

Mark and Isaiah and John the Baptist, and even Jesus himself, all used uncompromising language. Why? Because surely they knew better than anyone that the message of God would be compromised all down the line till today and well beyond.
But it wasn’t what the commercial world would do that bothered them it is what you and I do. It is about our belief and our faith and whether we actually do give precedence to the teaching of Jesus and the rules and doctrines of his Church or not.

So, let us stick to our guns. Let us have the confidence of a Mark or a John the Baptist and stick our necks out a bit and take up the task that Jesus has given us to go out and proclaim the Good News.

Notice the words ‘go out’ —not stay in and watch the mass from Westminster Cathedral on the telly. Be clear about it, just going out to Church on a Sunday morning is already in a very concrete way already beginning to carry out this mission.

But it is also more active than that. It is important to get this far, here to Church on a Sunday; but from here we are impelled much further. As the priest says at the end of each mass, ‘Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.’ That’s active. After all, loving and serving the Lord can’t be done sitting slouched on a sofa.

Loving and serving the Lord is what we are here for, it is our privileged task; we were chosen and selected for this sacred ministry by God himself. So, let’s not shrink back from it, let’s not water it down; let’s not compromise it.

And by our loving and serving we will be creating that ‘new heaven and a new earth’ that St Peter talks about. The world about us will one day collapse into flames and something entirely new will be revealed by God.

But it won’t be new or unfamiliar to us, because we know that it will be the fulfilment of all that God has promised, of all that we have been proclaiming, of all that we have been waiting for. 

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