Life on the Chrism Trail

Homily for the First Sunday of Advent

November 28, 2021
Good Shepherd Catholic Church
Colleyville, Texas

Jeremiah 33:14-16
Psalm 25:4-5, 8-9, 10, 14
1 Thessalonians 3:12-4:2
Luke 21:25-28, 34-36

Today we begin the season of Advent by hearing the words of Jesus that speak of the last things that are imminent signs before His second coming at the end of the world. “Be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent and to stand before the Son of Man.” We begin with the end and end with the beginning in entering into the mystery of our redemption won by Christ who is the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end. In Advent, the second coming is considered first and the first coming is considered second.

The Church invites us through the Liturgy in Advent to meditate on these two comings of Christ in that order because by entering this way into this encounter with Christ we are freed from the distractions of fear and of sin and we become more clearly focused upon Christ Himself with our hearts renewed in purity for ardent love and gratitude in the hope for our salvation. We begin by recognizing the urgency of our preparation for His second coming when He will come to judge us, and we end by seeing His birth in a stable as more than a sentimental story. The Nativity of Christ clarifies for us — in the humility and weakness of the Infant Christ laid in a manger surrounded in poverty by Joseph and Mary — the unconditional love of God and the purity of the desire of God to be loved by us. As Pope Saint Paul VI once said, “Is not that power which Christ exercised completely for us, for our benefit, for our salvation, for our love? Christ came for us, not against us. He is not a competitive rival to us. He is not an enemy. He is a guide for us on our way, He is a friend; that means for all of us, each and every one of us can rightly say: the Christ Child has come for me.”

Yet, for us to prepare for even the contemplation of such a pure and loving encounter first requires our penitence to be delivered from the distraction of fear that tempts us too frequently to view God wrongly as an adversary and threat to our freedom and our desire for a comfortable and affluent lifestyle.

Jesus warns us very clearly that there will come wars and disasters, persecutions, and pandemics, but that at those times we must avoid two extreme responses. The first reaction for us to avoid is despair of our salvation by surrendering to fear and giving up hope in Christ’s desire and power to save us. The second reaction to be avoided is presumption of our salvation by letting our hearts become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness whereby we will be surprised by the day of Christ’s coming and judgment of us. Despair and presumption are sins against the theological virtue of hope. So, the Lord directs us in today’s Gospel, “when these signs begin to happen, stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand.” Jesus means that we are to be converted and be courageous by trusting Him with confidence.

We need not go very far in surveying the news in our contemporary world to see all types of disasters and evil that we could interpret with some cogency as signs of the end times. There are many troubling things like wars, the COVID-19 pandemic, the polarization of our political life, attempts at indoctrinating our children with ideologies in our schools, the scandals in the Church, the crisis at the border, the angry politics of race, the revolutionary assaults upon the rule of law and right order by extremists, the systematic unraveling by ideologists of the binary understanding of gender as inherent to human nature by God’s creative design, the continuous assault on human life and upon the integrity of the family and natural marriage, to name but a few. Yet, unless we turn to Christ in prayer and with contrition for our own sins against God and our neighbor and manifest our conversion through concrete acts of charity and justice, we can become paralyzed by fear or drunk on our anger, and we will lack the confidence to stand peacefully in the truth.

As Christians, we are not preparing for the end times like an event, we are preparing for the coming of Christ who came to save us from our sins as foretold by the prophets and has entrusted to us as the Church the mission to proclaim the Gospel of Mercy to the world and not to institute a global and utopian vision. As Jeremiah proclaims about Christ and His mission, “The days are coming, says the LORD, when I will fulfill the promise that I made to the house of Israel and Judah. In those days, in that time, I will raise up for David a just shoot; he shall do what is right and just in the land.”

Fear is antithetical to the Gospel. The Gospel passage from Luke again exhorts the one who professes faith to “be vigilant at all times and to pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent and to stand before the Son of Man.”  This could seem ominous and indicative of only a paralyzing terror. But that is incorrect. Again, as one anticipates the second coming of Christ and the possibilities that the Kingdom of God brings, one enters it with hope born of faith and contrition born of love. The last clause in the summons of Jesus in the Gospel is “to stand before the Son of Man” — to stand before Him now to prepare to stand before Him at judgment. It is a lifting up of the soul, a raising of the heart, a looking upward of the mind. In short, it is prayer.

Advent is a time to pray. Prayer that is essential and effective for our purification. It is a time to seek out stillness especially in the noisy busy-ness of the excitement of the secular holidays instead of the Christian preparedness for the two comings of Christ. As Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI wrote, “For prayer to develop this power of purification, it must, on the one hand, be something very personal, an encounter between my intimate self and God, the living God. On the other hand, it must be constantly guided and enlightened by the great prayers of the Church and of the saints, by liturgical prayer, in which the Lord teaches us again and again how to pray properly…This is how we can speak to God and how God speaks to us. In this way we undergo those purifications by which we become open to God and are prepared for the service of our fellow men and women.”

The Eucharistic sacrifice which is about to be offered at the altar is the most important and intentional preparation the Catholic community has for Christ’s coming, for the Eucharist is itself His coming. Christ is really present Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity in the Eucharist. In the preface that begins the Eucharistic Prayer on this Sunday, the assembly gathered at Mass presents itself before God as “we who watch.” That means us. We who watch ask that already today we may sing the hymn of all the angels: “Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of hosts.” In the Eucharistic Prayer at every Mass the heavens are opened, and God comes down. In Holy Communion the heavens are opened, and God comes down. The Lord Jesus, whose Body and Blood we receive today is the Son of Man who will come in a cloud with power and great glory. With His grace delivered to us and with our hearts purified by penance, in Holy Communion it may be hoped that each one of us can exclaim, “I will ‘stand erect and raise my head, because my redemption is at hand.’”

%d bloggers like this: