13 December 20203 Advent

Homily from Father James Gilhooley
3 Advent
Third Sunday of Advent - B Cycle - John 1:6-8, 19-28
The magnificent portrait of John the Baptist by the 16th century Caravaggio was shown in the United States for but one time. Were you fortunate enough to see it? I was not. However, I did the next best thing. I read the superb Life of Christ by the Japanese author, Shusaku Endo. He is the Caravaggio of the East with his pen. His splendid word portrayal of John the Baptizer has given birth to this homily.
Can you imagine a country today without newspapers, TV, and fax machines? Such was Palestine twenty centuries ago. Still, detailed reports about the preaching of John the Baptist way down in southern Palestine made their way as far north to Jesus in the hick town of Nazareth. This will give you an idea of the socko magnetism that John out of of Elizabeth and Zachary possessed. We talk about a superstar. 
When Christ heard of the details of John's talks via the grapevine, He sold His tools and set up a fund for His mother. He walked south to check John out. This is the pilgrim Jesus. His trip was a long one. His constant companions were the dreadful heat by day and bone shivering cold by night. The journey would take four days. Finally, He came on large crowds at the Jordan River listening raptly to His cousin. Like them, the Christ hung on every word. The Gospel shows He was so moved by the preacher that He insisted upon being baptized by him. Initially, John had the good sense to decline. He knew he had a tiger by the tail. But Jesus was not the kind of Man you said no to then or now. The apocryphal Gospel of Thomas states He said, "He who is near me is near fire." That says it all.
It is intriguing to recall that the Teacher at this point was not the center of attention. He was a mere groupie lost in a large crowd. He was a follower.
After His baptism, He camped out with John and His company for several weeks. He kept a low profile. John's band wanted no one to outshine their guru. Acting otherwise might be perilous to Jesus' health.
Shortly thereafter, He began His prayer and fasting on the Mountain of the Forty Days. There His message came sharply into focus. It would be entirely different from that of the Baptist. When His retreat was done, He returned to bivouac with John and his people at the Jordan River for a time.
He had discovered what was wanting in the teaching of His cousin. It lacked tenderness. John preached God's anger but kept mum about God's love. The Baptist's God had no understanding about their daily problems. He had spent too much time in the desert. Their headaches could be a recession or a bank taking their home or a runaway teen daughter, etc. The Teacher rolled up His damp bedmat and quit John's riverside camp. They would never meet again, but they would never forget each other. The Master would recycle material from His cousin's sermons. And John in prison would attempt without success to renew their acquaintance.
The Nazarene returned to His own country and opened His preaching ministry. His modus operandi was clear. His cousin shouted at people till his face turned red and the veins stood out in his neck. He admonished them in rough language, "You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?" Jesus, on the other hand, would say softly to the walking wounded around Him, "Come unto me all you who are weary and are burdened and I will refresh you." He realized "a hurting person needs a helping hand, not an accusing finger."
Whose vision of God is yours? Is it the God of John full of anger? Or does it belong to the Teacher? His is a God anxious to forgive our sins and faults when we get down on our knees and ask for forgiveness in the confessional. The monk says the best eraser in the world is confession to God. 
The answer to these questions is important. But it matters not merely to ourselves but also to those around us. We project our vision of God on other people but especially on children. Inflict an incorrect vision of God on them and it will stay with them until they stop breathing.
Run your vision of God through your personal computer. If it is that of an angry God, bury it immediately. Pick up a gayly wrapped vision of God for yourself as a gift. This Christmas stop giving yourself a treatment and give yourself a treat.

Homily from Father Joseph Pellegrino
3 Advent

Third Sunday of Advent: Rejoice! We Have Been Found!

Negative! Negative! Negative! “The kids are doing this. The seniors are doing that. This is what is going on in our world, and it is wrong. This is why our country is going to hell in a handbag. In addition, Catholics are joining in, or not doing enough about it.” Negative! Negative! Negative!

“You really told them, Father. That was a great sermon. It’s about time someone said that about those people.” And so people are entertained at Mass as they hear about other people’s failing. The priest’s words are followed with applause. “Way to stick it to them, Father”

This is not what the Church should be. The direction of negativity is on a mean road, an unkind road, of arrogance. Where is the joy of Jesus Christ in all this negativity? Pope Francis tried to change the tone of the preaching in the Church when he issued the apostolic exhortation The Gospel of Joy. The Pope’s exhortation took the world by storm. It committed the Church to reassess its methods and goals. He called us to communicate the joy of the Gospel to the world. He told us that the main concern of the Church must be to bring the joy of Jesus Christ to the entire world.

For too long our Church has been associated with expounding the same moral topics over and over again. Many Bishops, Priests and Deacons have reduced the vast richness of our faith to our positions on topics such as abortion and gay marriage. As a result, instead of being encouraged to bring the joy of the Gospel to the world, people are confronted, even harangued with these topics, sometimes as often as once a month. Sometimes every week. How are people to experience and communicate the joy of the Gospel when all they hear from the pulpit are negatives? Pope Francis was not telling us to back down from Church teaching. He simply told us to stop pounding our positions into the people. 

This Sunday is Gaudete Sunday, Rejoice Sunday. “Brothers and sisters,” St. Paul says in the second reading, “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus....May the God of peace make you perfectly holy and may you entirely, spirit, soul, and body, be preserved blameless for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will also accomplish it.”

Rejoice, this Sunday tells us. The Rose vestments remind us that this is a time of great expectations. We have every reason to be full of joy. Rejoice, Christmas is almost here. Rejoice, not so much that we have found Christ, but rejoice that He has found us.

There are times that each of us feel lost. There are times that we feel alone. But we are not lost. He has found us. We are not alone. He is with us. With Jesus in our lives, the crises we face become challenges, but not devastating events. A loved one becomes sick, or even dies. We become sick and receive the diagnosis that our condition is terminal. A marriage falls apart. A job is lost. A friend is lost. Whatever the crisis, we know that the final result will be union with God. Jesus is with us always, particularly in the worst of our times. Rejoice in the Lord. 

Our beautiful late Holy Father, Pope St. John Paul II, told the youth of the world to be attune to the presence of Christ in their inmost desires. His words were meant for all of us: 

“It is Jesus that you seek when you dream of happiness. He is waiting for you when nothing else ever satisfies you. He is the beauty to which you are so attracted. It is He who provokes you with that thirst for fullness that will not let you settle for compromise. It is He that urges you to shed the masks of a false life. It is He who reads in your hearts your most genuine choices, the choices that others try to stifle. It is Jesus who stirs up in you the desire to do something great with your lives, the will to follow an ideal, the refusal to allow yourselves to be grounded down by mediocrity, the courage to commit yourselves humbly and patiently to improving yourselves and society, making the world more human and more fraternal.”

Jesus is there. He has found us. Now, the whole focus of our lives has changed. With Jesus in our lives, we are mature adults, living in His Love. Rejoice in the Lord.

The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me; he has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners, to announce a year of favor from the LORD and a day of vindication by our God.

These words of our first reading, from the third section of the Book of the Prophet Isaiah were read by Jesus Himself in the Synagogue of Nazareth in what we can call His first sermon. As Christian to the heart of our being, we also proclaim these words. We are anointed by God. We are baptized. And we are sent. We are sent to bring joy to the world. We are to bring glad tidings to the poor, news that God knows their plight and will care for them through His people here on earth, the Church. We are to tell the heart broken that God hears their cries. If they are mourning the loss of a loved one, they need to hear that the Lord has conquered death and that those who have let Him into their lives will live with Him forever. If their hearts are broken by events beyond their control, the loss of a job, the loss of a marriage, or any series of events that make them feel abandoned by the world, alone in society, they need to know that Jesus is the Mender of Broken Hearts. If they are held captive by others, or perhaps by their own addictions, they need to know that Jesus provides freedom and liberty. They do not have to spend the rest of their lives as victims of society. With Jesus they can be victors, not victims.

It is up to us to lead people to the victory of Jesus Christ. We do this by sharing our joy with them. “I rejoice heartily in the LORD, in my God is the joy of my soul.” I was lost, but now I am found. We were all lost, but He found us. His Grace is Amazing.

How can we be anything other than positive? Rejoice!

Homily from Father Phil Bloom
* Available in Spanish - see Spanish Homilies
3 Advent

Rejoice always

(December 13, 2020)

Bottom line: Today we prepare our hearts for Jesus' coming by taking seriously Paul's command, "Rejoice always."

Last week we heard the words, "Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God." God's comfort is so different from the false comfort this world offers. 

Today is Guadete Sunday. The word means, rejoice! St. Paul tells us, Rejoice always!

This is not easy. So often we present a glum face. There's a humorous story about famous preacher who was trying to teach his students to make their facial expressions harmonize with what they are speaking about. "When you speak of heaven," he said, "let you face light up, let it be irradiated with a heavenly gleam, let your eyes shine with reflected glory. But when you speak of Hell - well, then, your ordinary face will do."

I can see some of you smiling under your mask. You know it's true. Some people don't like masks. Others want to wear them forever - so they don't have to smile. Well, we can smile with our eyes and with our hearts. Someone needs your smile. Today the prophet Isaiah say,

The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,

because the LORD has anointed me;

he has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor,

to heal the brokenhearted...

When I was a young man, someone told me, "Treat each person you meet as if he has a broken heart - and you will not be wrong." Those words stuck with me, although I have not always put them in practice. I can excuse myself by saying I was distracted or irritated or just plain weary. Or perhaps I was too preoccupied with my own hurts to see theirs. The truth is all of us need someone to help put our hearts back together - and we have a hard time finding such a healer.

Today Isaiah foretells one "anointed," that is, designated, "to heal the brokenhearted." Many people thought John was that man. "Who are you?" They asked. He responded "I am not the Christ." Rather he says, "I am the voice of one crying out in the desert, 'make straight the way of the Lord,'" John, as great as he was, sensed that someone much greater was coming. John had the diagnosis, but this one possesses the cure. He is the cure - forgiveness and healing in his very person. Because of him, Paul can say those incredible words, "Rejoice always." (1 Thes 5:16)

Those words do not come easy to my lips. Last week a man in our parish lost his dear wife. Another family was struck with Covid. To tell them to rejoice would sound like mockery. But St. Paul, writing to people who suffered as much or more than we do, he does say, "Rejoice always."

I may not be as bold as St. Paul. He tells people - including hurting and heartbroken people - Rejoice always. I will at least do it with a symbol. Today we lit the rose candle of our Advent wreath - and I am wearing rose vestments. It signifies rejoicing. Though we come to the Lord with hearts broken - in some degree by our own faults - we look toward the one who is forgiveness and healing.

Before I conclude, I want to say something else. This may surprise you: We have a duty to be happy. The main thing our loved ones want of us is that we be happy. I have seen people with terrible problems who managed a smile - a smile that radiated an inner happiness. It's not impossible. With Jesus help it is not impossible. Next Sunday we will see the woman who shows us the way. The Bible says of her, "Hail, full of grace! the Lord is with you!" We will focus on her next week as we draw near the birth of her Son. Today we prepare our hearts for Jesus' coming by taking seriously Paul's command, "Rejoice always."

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

Homily from Father Alex McAllister SDS
3 Advent

We have in today’s Gospel an interesting interrogation. The priests and levites came out from Jerusalem to find out who this John the Baptist was, and whether he was the Messiah.

And it is probably a quite accurate description of the events that day, because after all St John the Evangelist the author of the Gospel today was a close disciple of John the Baptist and was undoubtedly present on that occasion. Hence all the detail about the interrogation. A few verses further on it is mentioned that our Evangelist was there the following day when John the Baptist pointed out Jesus to him and his companion Andrew.
If you read the text carefully you will see that Jesus himself was surely present on the occasion referred to in today’s Gospel. Why else would John the Baptist say: ‘There stands among you, unknown to you, the one who is coming after me’? Then the very next day John the Baptist quietly points out Jesus to John and his companion Andrew and more or less directs them to follow Jesus.
It is a small detail but quite interesting. It makes the priests and levites out to be a bit on the slow side, them questioning John asking him if he was the Messiah when the real Messiah was standing right next to them. Who says there is no humour in the Gospels?
The priests and levites ask John three questions: ‘Are you the Christ?’ ‘Are you Elijah?’ ‘Are you the prophet?’ Then they ask a fourth: ‘If you are not the Christ, or Elijah or the Prophet then why are you baptising?’
John answered the first three questions quite honestly by saying no to them all. The first and the last were really the same question since the Christ and the Prophet were words used interchangeably for the Messiah.
But John the Baptist, if you think about it, wouldn’t have been very far wrong if he had said he was Elijah. Elijah was supposed to return as an immediate precursor to the Messiah. And actually, in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus after coming down from the Mount of the Transfiguration referred to John the Baptist as Elijah.
After seeing the vision of Moses and Elijah on either side of Jesus when he was transfigured, Peter, James and John asked, ‘We know that you are the Messiah, but how is it that Elijah did not come to announce your coming?’ Jesus replied, clearly referring to John the Baptist, ‘Elijah has come already.’ (Mt 17,12)
The fourth question is also worth some reflection, ‘Why then are you baptising?’ John, of course, does not directly answer but makes a declaration that the Messiah is already here and he says with heavy irony, ‘he is standing among you.’ Those proud priests go away unsatisfied and with hatred in their hearts, confirmed in their ignorance and determined that they would punish John for his impudence.

We too face such questions. We too are asked who we are and what are we doing. Often our questioners are just as hard in their hearts as John’s inquisitors. But hopefully just as often our interrogators ask their questions with a real desire to know the answers. Many times they ask with a yearning in their hearts and they deserve to know the answers and it is our duty to guide them in the right way.
But no one will ask you anything like this unless they see you actually being a Christian; actually carrying out your Christian duties; actually standing out from the crowd for the sake of the Gospel.
It might be that they ask you because you have been brave enough to wear a simple cross in your buttonhole; or because you refused to take part in some minor scam at work; or because you helped someone in need when others went hurrying by on the other side.
But how to deal with these questions? How to answer without making a fool of yourself? Can I suggest that first you answer the questions for yourself. If you know why you sit here on a Sunday then it won’t be too difficult to answer other people. Take a little time out now and again to make this sort of self-examination; it will repay you no end.
Not only will it help you when others put you unexpectedly on the spot but it will give you an inner confidence and certainty which will make you feel better in yourself.
But you could also go one step further and talk to others about your faith. Ask each other about your motives and priorities in life and where Jesus fits in. Perhaps we Catholics aren’t too good at this. For many years we weren’t encouraged to do that sort of thing, we were supposed to sit back and accept what we were told by those in authority. But this sort of ecclesiastical put-down doesn’t have a place in todays world.
The Church has moved on and it now realises that such questioning is good. After all, it gives the Holy Spirit room to work. It leads to a deepening of faith and an increased trust in the teaching of the Church. But if the Church has moved on then perhaps, we too need to move on and open our mouths and share our faith a little.
How frequently you find a perfectly good Catholic family who all believe the same things and who pray to the same God and yet never exchange a word about this most important aspect of their lives. Think of the power of good that could be done, think of how they could strengthen each other just by sharing a few words with each other about their common faith! Think of the support they could give to each other, think of the doubts and uncertainties that could be so easily resolved!
Jesus stands among us, just as he stood unrecognised among those priests and levites. He stands among us as a hidden presence. Not threatening, not judging, not spying on us or interfering; but just there cool, calm, patient, content to let things take their course. He is simply a presence standing there beside us.
Be aware of his hidden presence and you will have no fear when you face questions. Just realising that he is by your side in your family conversations will surely help you to share your faith with each other and help you to find a common meaning and purpose in your life. Knowing he is close to us strengthens us in unity and bolsters our faith and gives us the courage to be fearless witnesses to his name.
Don’t forget who it really is that wants you to clam up, who wants you to feel awkward when it comes to matters of religion, who wants you to hesitate and stumble in the face of your questioners. The evil one is quite happy to exploit your reluctance. He wants to strike you dumb and fill your mind with confusion and make you shy and bashful about matters of faith.
Rather take heart from the words of Paul and let it be our prayer for each other, ‘May the God of peace make you perfect and holy; and may you all be kept safe and blameless, spirit, soul and body, for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ’ who is Lord for ever and ever. Amen.

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