Homilies-3rd Series (2018-2020)


4B

     Indeed, we Americans love power.  That’s why football is our favorite sport, and the Super Bowl our most hallowed championship.  That’s also why, although militarily the strongest country in the world, we keep spending money on the military, just to make sure.  I think, too, that we keep pushing our economy further because it must be the strongest in the world: the mighty dollar and the surging stock market.

      

But what is the strongest force on the earth?  It might sound shmaltzy, but I think we would all, given time to think about it, say that self-less love is the greatest force in all of creation. More than nuclear power.  More than any military.  More than any ambitious drive. 


     In the first reading, Moses is talking about a prophet to come after him.  Then he gives some background.  When God appeared to the Jewish people, God seemed too powerful, and they shuddered in fear.  So God gave Moses as God’s prophet, so they could deal with God through Moses, and not directly.  Moses says that yet another prophet will arise, one greater than him.  Obviously, this prophet will represent God even better than Moses did.  “This is what you begged for,” says Moses.

 
 

     In the Gospel, we see Jesus as the great prophet that the Jewish people dreamed about.  Everyone is astonished at Jesus.  He goes to synagogues to teach and demons shriek in his presence.  “We know who you are!” they yell.  He commands them to be silent and they obey; it’s not their job to tell people who Jesus is, but Jesus’ job to reveal his life and mission.  People are astounded.  “What is this? 

A new teaching with authority.”


     Now this word “authority” can be translated in many ways: force, influence, or even power.  Clearly the Gospel means it as power because Jesus is arrayed in battle against the forces of evil.  But the power by which Jesus wins against evil is not a physical power, but a spiritual one.  Jesus has power because he represents in his life the hidden power of God’s infinite love now appearing before our eyes, now active in our world.  Jesus doesn’t give us verbiage or legalese; Jesus shows God’s power of love active and present in our midst.  Jesus’ selfless love shows us the true power of God, given to us in the Holy Spirit.

 
 

     This selflessness might show itself in a variety of ways.  Paul talks about an early tradition in the Church, one that has grown into the Catholic witness which our priests, sisters and religious brothers undertake: they forego marriage for the sake of the Kingdom.  As Paul points out, it’s a way to focus one’s energy more fully on the Kingdom, God’s power of love in our world.  This witness helps all of us think about how we are all living for the Kingdom.  I’m sure many of Paul’s friends pointed out to him that married people often live lives far more selfless than professional religious who rarely have sick babies crying in their ears all night!

     Here’s a thought experiment.  Think of who or what has influenced you most in your life.  I bet it’s been a person who loved you, gave you time, and set interests aside for your sake.  Someone who loved you selflessly.  Or think, on the other hand, of those you have cared for most in your lives: how you expected nothing back from them because loving others was the greatest joy you could experience.  That’s the love Jesus unleashes on the world—the one power that truly can change everything, the power of selfless love, revealing the heart of God.


     Jesus doesn’t need the demons claiming they know who he is.  Jesus needs us to know who he is, the God he is and shows us, and the infinite love that is the inner power of his life—and, hopefully, ours as well.

 


3 B

   We can think of headlines that changed our lives.  My parents talked about the bombing of Pearl Harbor.  I remember the headlines around the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. Pictures of Nixon’s Resignation, with his salute as he entered his helicopter, were sent everywhere.  The NY Daily News could not express enough shock and grief after the World Trade Center was attacked.  Headlines catch our attention, and the biggest ones announce that things will never be the same.

   Then we have what modern people call “clickbait”—the eye-catching headline that proves to be nothing but a gimmick.  “I lost fifty pounds in five days.”  “These five foods will help you live to 100.”  “One can of soda can end your life.”  We learn pretty quickly to ignore these teasers because they change nothing in our lives.  They have the substance of vapor.


   What kind of a headline do we have in the Gospel today?  It is Mark’s opening presentation of Jesus, the very first time we see Jesus and hear his first words.  John the Baptist, Jesus’ kin and spiritual mentor, has now been arrested.  Jesus steps forth to advance the work of John in a dramatic way.  “Now is the time of fulfillment,” Jesus says.  “The Kingdom of God is at hand.  Repent and believe in the gospel”  


   You would think these to be among the most world-shattering words ever uttered.  Particularly in view of what we see Jesus doing in the rest of the Gospel, and how his death and resurrection inaugurate the Kingdom for which Jesus lived.  You would think Christ’s opening headline would turn heads everywhere.  If the mythical Jonah can convert the vast city of Nineveh, Jesus certainly can convert the world.


   But the sad truth is that we pay attention only to what interests us, and, more and more, we ignore things we do not want to hear.  Jesus proclaimed a Kingdom that would amount to the transformation of humankind.  But particularly modern people just yawn at Jesus’ message and pass on to something else. Perhaps it’s because we no longer think we deserve something like a Kingdom.  It seems totally out of our reach.


   Because once we believe in the Kingdom, everything changes.  Paul shows us in the second reading that we cannot have the same attitudes toward life as before because the Kingdom overwhelms everything else we think is important.  But we have been seduced to think so little of ourselves, and so little of our destiny, that the Kingdom seems less real than Disneyland, and the shorter aims of life look more compelling. 


   So let’s make money, and have a party or two, and win a ball game, and maybe even have a great wedding now and then.  Let’s take care of our careers, have a tight set of friends, try to be faithful to our beloved, and maybe have a steak every once in a while.  Let’s live for these moments because who knows what comes after these moments . . .


   But Jesus still proclaims a Kingdom coming into our lives, whether we can see it or not.  His ministry is to convert us—that is, to give us the eyes to see the Kingdom.  This is a Kingdom whose mercy will shatter us, whose compassion will sweep us away, whose universal love will make friendship pale, whose promise of life, all by itself, makes the moments of our life have the meaning they crave.


   How tragic for us to treat as clickbait the one announcement we cannot afford to miss.  And how tragic to live these fragile moments as if these were all we’re going to get, because these are all we think we can ever be worthy of.  The future apostles, Peter and Andrew, James and John, drop everything they are doing; this is the news for which they have been waiting. 

   

   Hawaii shuddered at the flashing of a fake headline last week, one about an impending nuclear threat.  And who knows what the next headline will be that gets us spinning, whether true or not?  But no headline is more important than the one we hear today, that God’s time is being fulfilled, and God’s Kingdom is sweeping over our lives. 

2 B

     There has always been the risk of anonymity—people who can accuse other without being accountable—but this risk  gotten worse, I think, with the Internet.  I often wonder how many Facebook accounts are fake, just made-up weird names behind which people can hide.  In fact, around Christmas, I got a friend request from someone called Walter Faker.  Really?  Couldn’t you be more imaginative than that?

     But anonymity gives us a lot—the ability to do something and not be responsible for it.  “They’ll never know who I am,” we think;  so, we send a message that’s foul, things we’d never say face to face.  How many people in history have been part of nameless mobs?  I was reading how in Renaissance Florence they had boxes throughout the city; people could make anonymous accusations about their neighbors.  How many repressive societies have thrived on anonymity?


     What about God?  Can we be anonymous with God?  We find a bunch of names in the Gospel today, but the biggest name is the one that starts the Gospel passage off, when John the Baptist calls Jesus the “lamb” of God.  We will only find out later the full meaning of this name, but clearly John is talking about someone who comes in gentleness and vulnerability, as meek as a lamb.  This intrigues some of John’s followers, who then proceed to follow Jesus.


     As the Gospel unfolds, each disciple is named, with the finale at the end, when Jesus renames Simon, calling him Cephas, or Peter, or the Rock.  He wasn’t going to be a wrestler, or a movie star, like Dwayne Johnson.  Peter would be a rock in other ways!  It’s as if Jesus will not let us be anonymous with him.  He insists on knowing our name, and relating to us directly and personally.  “Come and see,” he says to the disciples; after this moment, they never forget him, and he never forgets them.

 

     Samuel, in the first reading, hears his name called; instead of reassuring him, it puzzles him.  “Who called me?” he asks.  He runs to Eli again and again until Eli sets him straight: when you hear your name called again and again, it has to be God, because only God calls and never lets you go. 

     We wonder what Samuel’s life would be like if he never identified God?  If he just heard a voice and didn’t respond, or didn’t know how to respond?  Yet I think that can be so many people in our modern culture who have a kind of half-awake relationship with God.  God speaks and we don’t hear.  Or God speaks and we pretend not to hear.  God wants to enter into relationship with us, but we are not sure on our end.  Our faith is half-asleep.


     There are many of us believers who do pretty well with anonymity.  Our faith is comfortable to us, so long as we are part of a crowd, nameless, not called out, not fingered.  But, ultimately, this is an illusion.  At our baptism we were all given a name, that is, we were all brought into relationship with God.  You cannot be an anonymous believer.  And part of the renewal of our Catholic Church, over these past fifty years, is realizing that we are personally called into discipleship, called to know Jesus as the most intimate person in our lives, and called to reveal Jesus in our daily lives, beginning with our families, but not stopping there. 


     “Come and see,” says Jesus.  Renew your discipleship.  Understand what it means to be participate in the Eucharist, to receive the Eucharist, to live the Eucharist.  Believe it or not, Lent is just six weeks away, and Lent is the perfect time to renew our following of Jesus, not anonymously but as part of this parish community.  You will hear an invitation, just like Andrew and Simon.  “Come and see”—the message is the same.  Think about how you will answer.

 

EPIPHANY

   A friend of mine, an actual Facebook friend, posted on New Year’s Eve that 2018 would be different.  “No excuses” was his theme.  In the image he presented, he had all the excuses we usually make—too old, too tired, too sick, too young, too depressed, too excited—all these excuses were depicted and then crossed out.  2018 was going to be a year to attain goals, with no excuses keeping him back.

   As we get into 2018, we might think about our goals for this year and, indeed, be discouraged.  We think of past years, things we wanted to accomplish, but somehow never could.  As we reflect on this, we realize that, despite any goal we set, it’s very easy to give up.  We can pull our own favorite collection of excuses from the shelf and then use them to give up the path we have chosen.


   We have the daunting image of the Magi, the Three Kings, given to us today.  In Latino countries, this is the dominant image of Christmas, not Santa Clause.  The image is daunting because we realize what their symbolic journey entailed, but also how strong their optimism was.  They were on their way and nothing was going to stop them. 


   Royalty from the East—that is, from countries that did not have the    benefit of Jewish revelation; from countries where people spoke, ate, and looked different.  Were they from India, or China?  Were they Manchurian or Malaysian?  It makes no difference; the image is saying that they were from everywhere.  A star rises and these pilgrims from afar will not ignore it.  The star rises for everyone, and is seen by all who search.


   We imagine their journey, how steep the hills, how dusty the roads.  We can guess how many times they asked themselves, “Do I really want to do this?”  They could have stopped half-way and pronounced their journey complete.  But, no, they saw something; it was enough to get them on the road; and it was enough to keep them going.  So trusting were they that they brought gifts ahead of time.  They knew they would meet the one they sought; royalty bring gifts to greater royalty.

   


   These Magi represent the religious longing in every human heart.  They represent a part of us that is easy to hide, but almost impossible to eliminate.  Their persistence, their faith, stands as a challenge to the frequent fickleness of our journeys. But it also stands as a sign of hope that everyone of us is being touched by God’s grace, and God gives up on none of us. 

   


St. Paul says it: now the Gentiles are included in God’s plan, just like the Jews.  Now God makes one family from folks from East and West, from continents North and South.  Now God invites all to gather with their gifts and to be generous because all our gifts look pale compared to the Gift God gives us in Jesus. 

   


   The wise Royalty from afar bow down in adoration, as we do at Mass today.  They found what they sought because God has already found them.  Epiphany says we can find what we see, if we do not give up, because God has already wrapped us in the grace of Jesus, and that grace is present as God’s Gift, Jesus, who draws into the fullness of life. 


HOLY FAMILY

     I can predict it infallibly.  Every Sunday at about 6:00 AM an email appears in my inbox.  Every Sunday, without fail, that email is from Thrifty Car Rental.  I don’t know what algorithm they have developed that leads them to think that Sunday morning is the very best time to tell me I have 10% off the next time I rent.  But there it is.  And just like I can predict the email, websites predict me.  They know that I might buy certain kinds of movies, or books about religion, or when it’s time to replenish my supply of razors.  And the more they can predict me, the more successful they are considered. 

     But prediction is usually difficult.  We hear all the predictions of the New Year, but who knows what’s going to happen?  The stock market has been going up, but will that continue? And how will the 2018 elections go?  Will they invent a treatment for some intractable disease?  Will my senior in high school get into the preferred college?  To all of these, we have the same response: Who knows?


     When Simeon in the Gospel receives the newl-born Christ, we are surprised at both his recognition of Jesus, and the predictions that he makes.  How does he know?  How can he make the pronouncements he makes?  But perhaps we have a clue when Luke tells us that he was an old man and had longed for the salvation of his people.  


     It might be like an older and very skilled doctor who can tell things from the patterns the patient presents.  Or a very skilled therapist who knows how issues tend to unfold in human consciousness.  Simeon knew his people, and he knew God; he could tell in his bones that something was going to happen.

     We are a bit surprised when we hear that he calls Jesus a sign of contradiction.  Of course, we immediately think of how Jesus would be rejected in his ministry.  But Simeon had plenty of reason to see contradiction and conflict as business as usual.  He had long meditated on the contradictions of his people: even though given revelation, law, and prophets, they still were stiff necked and resistant.  They still wanted God on their terms.  And he surely had meditated on the contradictions of his own life, just like the contradictions of every human heart.  No matter what we say, it seems impossible for us to change.  No matter what we promise, we continue to do the same thing anyway.

     In Jesus’ case, those contradictions would amount to something because, after he was rejected as the spokesman, not to say the Son, of God, God raised him from the dead.  Jesus becomes the sign of contradiction that changes everything because his resurrection means that the cycle of defeat in our lives is broken.  Jesus rises to send the Holy Spirit upon us, a Spirit whose consolation and power can bring change into our lives.  Instead of resisting God, the Spirit shows the deepest acceptance of God on our part—God dwelling within us and filling us with new life.

     So New Years is around the corner, with all of the resolutions we make and hardly ever keep.  More evidence of the contradictions of our lives.  But maybe we should resolve again, not through our own determination, but through the determination of the Spirit of Jesus given to us.  One place we might focus our resolutions could be our own families, because so often our family life shows little evidence of faith, prayer, and support.  We think coming to church on Sunday is how we live our faith life.  But coming to church is primarily to give strength to all the other ways we live our faith life.  In our households, can we pray daily and regularly?  Share some lines of the Scriptures?  Go out of our way to help another?  Or, as a family, commit ourselves to helping others

   There are many things we cannot predict.  But here’s a prediction that is safe: if we prayed and lived our faith more fully as a family, our family life will undoubtedly be transformed.  If we show the faith that the Spirit has already given us, more fully and openly, inevitably that faith will grow in ways that will astonish us.  

CHRISTMAS

The Tension of Christmas.


     The shepherds are in the fields; the angels are in the skies.  Earth and heaven—now each connected by the infant born in a manger. 

     How often earth seeks for heaven.  We gaze upon stars.  We ogle at eclipses.  We smile at moons when they are full.  We send rockets into the sky, affirming, in some way, that we think our answers come from “out there” and “above.”


     But Jesus comes to earth, enfleshed among us, as vulnerable as the dust from which we are made.  “Take me to heaven,” we cry out.  But Jesus says, by his appearance among us, that there is no heaven apart from earth.  He spans earth and heaven, easing and bridging the tension, showing us that, in faith and trust, the things of heaven can be found within us and among us.  “The Kingdom of God is within you,” he says.


     Really?  We ask the emptiness of night, “Really?”  Our earth looks so limited, broken, confused, unfair, weighed-down; our earth looks so despairing with the wars, the famines, the injustices, the pain.  “But I come to take all that on,” says Jesus.  “I come to show you a Kingdom you can have because in place of your brokenness, I bring wholeness.  In place of your despair, I bring hope.  In place of the emptiness you feel, I bring the fullness of God.”


     So it happens, slowly but inevitably, from that Christmas manger to Calvary; from an empty tomb to the Spirit poured out; from an infant church to a world-wide communion of love and life; from a community of believers to the fullness of time.  Slowly it happens; Christmas grows.  From within our earth, within our flesh, God brings forth a new realm—one in which each person can have, in faith and hope, the fullness of life and love.

     

     The tension of Christmas, between earth and heaven, is now resolved in the Kingdom that he brings.

 

ADVENT 4 B

     He’s been hospitalized for weeks, and probably has weeks more to go.  After an unbelievable auto crash, he had broken bones everywhere.  So now he lies in the hospital bed where everything he needs has to be brought to him, or done for him.  “This is almost impossible to take,” he says.  But sometimes in our lives we have to learn how to receive, how to accept.

     In our first reading, David wants to do something big for God.  He has subdued the ancient tribal region of Judah, established Jerusalem as its capital, and built a palace for himself.  Now he wants to build one for God.  So Nathan, the prophet, approaches David and tells him that he’s gone it upside down.  It’s not David who builds a house for God; rather, God is the one who gives David a house and a kingdom.

     There is probably no more basic instinct we humans have than to do things for ourselves.  Grace is a very hard idea concept for us: to be loved, gifted, graced without any action on our part.  That just sounds crazy.  What would I think if someone came down the street and handed me $100?  “What’s this for?” I’d say.  

     So today, the Sunday and day before Christmas, we have to find a corner in the room where Mary is; she’s probably quietly praying or maybe humming a psalm to herself.  Mary is the greatest recipient of grace in human history; and it astonishes her to realize this.  “Hail, highly favored one,” says Gabriel, and Mary wonders who he is talking about.  “Blessed—Graced—are you among all women.”  Mary is totally amazed: how can this be?  I have done nothing. 

     But the Holy Spirit comes upon her, as the Holy Spirit comes upon all those graced by God, but in a way so intense and complete that she begins to bear in herself God’s Word now made flesh.  Mary had one role: to receive, to accept, to give herself completely to the gift God was giving her and the world.  “Be it done unto me,” she says.  On behalf of us all, she receives the gift.

     This Sunday teaches us that everything in our Catholic lives begins with grace.  As humble Mary receives the grace of being the Mother of Christ incarnate—she calls herself a handmaid—so she shows us the ultimate posture we must have in our lives: to receive as deeply as we can the grace and love God pours into our hearts as a gift.

     

Because, in the end, we do not make Christmas; God makes Christmas.  And God gives us Christmas as the greatest gift we can receive.  Emmanuel—God is with us—Wait, wait, we say.  We want to do things for ourselves.  But so often, when we try to save ourselves, we only make things worse.  We do not do well as Messiahs.  That’s why God sends us Jesus to be Messiah for us, and for all humankind.

     We hear St. Paul use a phrase—“the obedience of faith”—in today’s reading at the end of his letter to the Romans; he also starts his letter off with that same phrase.  What Paul is talking about is what Mary shows us: to obey is to surrender; to surrender is to accept; to accept is to receive—to receive God’s gift!

     So often these days we wrack our brains looking for the perfect gift for a family member or a friend.  We do this because we love the person.  God sends us Jesus as our perfect gift—because God loves us, and because God knows Jesus, our Messiah, is the one gift we absolutely need.  


ADVENT 3 B

     “Why’s the sky blue, Daddy?  Why’s the sky blue?” So asks a little girl of her father.  Older folks among us will remember this question which was part of a non-stop ad that ran on TV and radio in the 1950s.  We heard the ad so often, after a while we just wanted the kid to shut up.  This was part of a campaign to sell encyclopedias, so that parents would not be humiliated by the endless questions of their children.

     Sure, we have questions that children ask, like when they turn 5 and ask “why” non-stop.  Then also questions about relationships which emerge in teen years.  When we go to college, being questioned is part of the drill, determining whether we get credit or not.  And then we have the super-questions, those asked by members of congress as they depose people before TV cameras.  So many questions; so many meanings. 

     I wonder what motivates the tons of questions that we hear coming from the religious leaders when they go to John the Baptist in the desert.  Of course, this reminds us that asking questions is part of our growth in faith; Jesus is always waiting to reveal himself more deeply to us.  But sometimes our questions are just ways to put things off.  As long as I keep asking questions, I keep you on the defensive; as long as I keep you on the defensive, I have the power, I have the ability to look superior to you.  

     Today we are invited to not only look at our questions, but to look at what’s behind them.  Because we can love our questions so much—we keep hearing about the growth of doubt in today’s world—that we often overlook what they mean.  Do you think it was just curiosity that brought these people to the desert?  Or do you think this was their way to show John who was the boss when it came to issues of faith back in those ancient days?  Or do you think it was fear that now people might have to acknowledge their need for God—and stop hiding behind their questions?

  

     Because at some point the questions must stop and we have to deal with the realities we face.  I cannot wonder forever what my career will be because I need to earn a living.  I cannot ask if this or that one is the right person for me, because I cannot live alone.  I cannot spin theories endlessly, raising questions about society and its people.  I have to take a stand and show what I believe.  And I cannot spend my spiritual life questioning God about this, and Jesus about that.  I have to stop and behold: I have to let God reveal God’s answers to me.

   

     Doing this means not being afraid of contemplation, of powerful moments of deep quiet in our lives.  And it demands that we get out of our pride and listen humbly to things that might be hard to hear.  It means recognizing that we ask questions because of the deep longing in our hearts, and recognizing that those deep longing demand an equally deep answer.  As Augustine put it, our hearts are restless until they rest in God.

 

 

     Our faith is all about the real.  Jesus comes to fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy, to be anointed with the Spirit that he might bring vision, and healing, and freedom, and Good News.  This is the One for whom we long, and the hungers of our hearts reveal that every day. 


     In a world of scrolling and clicks, are we prophetic enough to acknowledge that Amazon and Google cannot answer our deepest questions?  We may want to know why the sky is blue, or why the market keeps going higher.  But what we need to know is who will satisfy our need to be loved without limit, and how only God can answer that question for real. 

 

ADVENT 2 B

     I think about prisoners all the more because I help direct Paulist Prison Ministries.  I wonder how people hold it together while they are in prison, how isolated they are, especially from their families.  So I concretely imagine when it’s time for them to leave prison, what it must be like, how they count down the days, the images they have of their children, their wives and partners.  The closer the time comes, the more excited, and frustrated, it must be until the final papers arrive, the guard leads them through the various steel and bolted doors, and finally they step outside, their eyes gazing around for the family or friends who will take them home. Their exile is over.

     This is only an shadow of the feeling that Isaiah gives in today’s first reading.  “Comfort, Comfort,” he sings.  Indeed, these chapters in Isaiah are called the “Book of Comfort.”  And what was the consolation?  Finally, after 60 years of exile, the Jewish people were going home.  Their feeling of isolation and exile was ending.  The scriptures talk about the walk through the desert, on their way home, almost as if it was a new creation.  That’s what it’s like when exile is ended.

     Sometimes, however, the biggest exile isn’t one of distance of place.  Sometimes the biggest exile we experience is one of relationship.  We feel cut off from others; or, strangest of all, we feel cut off from ourselves.  John the Baptist “appears” as the Scripture puts it; he appears in the desert, the same one that the Jewish people crossed on their way home.  John comes as a prophet to lead people from the exile they feel today.  John wants to lead people back to God and, in the process, restore them to themselves.  “The voice of one crying in the desert, make straight the way of the Lord.”

     How does this happen?  Through conversion and moving to a different place in our lives.  It says that John preached a “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sin.”  But the words here mean more than they seem.  “Repentance” means a changing of our minds and hearts—a whole other way of seeing things.  John is offering them an opportunity to see their lives and the world in a different way, in relationship to God.  And this re-seeing of one’s life in terms of God leads us to a new space.  In the original Greek, the words literally are “into the forgiveness of sin,” as if forgiveness was more than an act—it’s as if forgiveness is a state in life, a way we live, a new reality.  And that reality, forgiveness of sin, means that we are no longer exiled.  No, we finally have found ourselves at home with ourselves, with others, and with God.

     We’ve had a lot of news lately about sins being revealed; media and lawyers seem to be reporting someone accused every other day.  I even see people joking about who might be revealed next.  But all of that is a way to deal with terrible hurt that created terrible distances between people.  By recognizing our sins, our brokenness, our exile, then reconciliation and healing can begin.  Because then we have learned only God can free us from exile.

     Advent invites us to this—to inventory our lives, to note the exiles and distances we have caused or tolerated, and to begin overcoming that alienation through a new experience of God’s love.  John only baptizes with water, as a sign of forgiveness.  Jesus, however, bestows the Holy Spirit, God’s life now given to us—to heal, to bridge, to build, and to transform. 

 


ADVENT 1 B

     “You better watch out . . .”  Of course, we naturally want to add this time of year, “You better not pout.”  We often take the word “watch” as a warning.  “Watch your step,” we say.  Or “You better watch your back.”  There’s the sense of some future dread that demands our alert.  Jesus, in the Gospel, even gives us the sense of being on watch, as if we were posted somewhere, on guard.

      But we also say things like, “Watch your mail for something special!”  And “Here’s something great I want you to watch.”  A mother might say to her child, “Go to the window and watch for grandpa, he’s on his way.”  Here, we do not have a sense of dread but one anticipating something great.  We can barely wait.

      So, in what sense is Jesus telling his disciples to watch?  When we read the scripture, it isn’t entirely clear.  Yes, the Master has gone.  We know he’s coming back.  It could be at any time.  So often in our Catholic history, it seemed like a terrible moment of judgment was coming.  Just remember what Michelangelo painted in the Sistine Chapel—Jesus coming like a buff wrestler in judgment on us all.  It’s hard not to be afraid of that.

      But is that what Jesus’ coming is about—his first or his last?  When he walked among us, did he not walk in love and grace?  Did he not look for people whom society dismissed or ignored, so he could bless them?  Did he not say that his kingdom was for the poor, the weeping, the lowly?  In fact, Jesus came, and will come again, for the same thing: for the sake of his Kingdom, which is the universal experience of the fullness of love and life.

      You mean, you are asking, Jesus isn’t coming in judgment? Of course he is!  But the judgment is this: the fullness of Love will be right before us, and what will we say?  What will we do?  What will we see?  Because every time we chose a direction other than true, authentic, divine love, we make it harder to see Love in its fullness.  And some of us choose a direction so at odds with God, that we have totally blocked the ability to see and experience the fullness of Love.

      This means that the time you and I have right now is precious.  Paul tells us it is a time of encouragement, so we can wait in faithfulness for a totally faithful God.  Jesus’ worry is that we will forget what we are waiting for, forget the Master’s love, and live our faith only half-way, only in name.  Jesus worries that we will go through the motions of waiting, but not really live in longing for his Kingdom and its life.  And to live this way—without yearning and anticipation—is to already be obscuring, and missing, God’s love.  If we are not excited about God’s love, we certainly do not know it!

      We see enough of this around today: the taking of faith as a merely social, exterior form; the pretense of faith; seeing faith as a hobby, or as a purely personal exercise of choice.  Yet our being involved with Jesus, in his sacraments and his way of life, in our parish and our serving other, says we want to stay excited; we want to stay faithful  

      We can look back over one-hundred years as see the different ways faith has been lived.  But the invitation this Advent, at the start of a new Church year, is to look ahead—not only to the upcoming Church year, but to the future of how we are going to live our faith as a renewed parish community.  Can we live it as the disciples we are called to be?  Because unless we become more fully disciples, filled with longing and hope, this modern world will gobble us up. 

      But if we watch with expectant joy, then the modern world may see in us exactly what it needs: not a vision of fear and warning, but one of joyful hope. 

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