Building on the Rock this Advent and Beyond, First Thursday of Advent, December 7, 2017

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Thursday of the First Week of Advent
Memorial of Saint Ambrose
December 7, 2017
Is 26:1-6, Ps 118, Mt 7:21.24-27

 

To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below: 

 

The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • Throughout the Advent Season, we pray, “Come, Lord Jesus,” “O Come, Divine Messiah!,” “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” and these are all good aspirations, but the Church, which selects the Gospel passages throughout this first week of Advent very well to help us learn the proper dispositions to enter into the meaning of this season and get off to a good start in this new liturgical year, helps us to focus that it’s by no means enough for us to stop there. In today’s Gospel, Jesus says to us very clearly, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the Kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.” It’s not enough for us to bid the Lord to come, but we need to build out life on him as he comes. “The Lord is an eternal Rock,” Isaiah tells us today. The Psalm adds, “The Lord is God and he has given us light.” The Lord is the solid, stable, unchanging foundation for life, the God who not only is “Light from Light,” but shares that light with us so that we may walk as children of light. Isaiah will tell us on Christmas night that the “people walking in darkness have seen a great light,” and that light is the Lord. Our Advent construction project is to build our life on that rock.
  • Jesus gives us an image today, taken from his conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount, about how we’re supposed to live what he teaches. “Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.  The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house.  But it did not collapse; it had been set solidly on rock.” That’s what our response is supposed to be to Jesus’ triple coming: to build our life on his taking on our humanity so that we may share in his divinity; to construct our existence on Him in the present, in his Word and in especially in the Word-made-flesh as the source and summit, the root and center of Christian life; and to ground our hopes, aspirations and daily choices in the guarantee of his second coming and to live, as we’re reminded to live each Advent, vigilant and alert each day for his return. Not everyone lives this way. Many are foolish. Many of us are foolish, because we hear his Word, we may even be able to cite chapter and verse, but we don’t act on it. Jesus says, “And everyone who listens to these words of mine but does not act on them will be like a fool who built his house on sand.  The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. And it collapsed and was completely ruined.” The true Advent response is Mary’s, which, as we will hear tomorrow on the Solemnity of her Immaculate Conception, in response to the Archangel Gabriel’s words said, “Behold I am the Lord’s servant. Let it be done to me according to your Word!” She shows us how to build long for God’s word, to build our life on God’s it and to share it.
  • To build our whole existence on Jesus requires great trust, because Jesus’ words are different than the world’s. It’s challenging to build our life on the word of forgiving seventy time seven times, to love our enemies, to love others as God infinitely loves us. It’s hard to build our life on the commandments, the corporal and spiritual works of mercy and especially in the Beatitudes which began the Sermon on the Mount. Whereas the world thinks we need to be rich to be fulfilled Jesus says we need to be poor; whereas the world says we have to be popular and congenial, Jesus says we need to be persecuted for his sake; whereas the world says we need to be powerful, Jesus says we need to be meek peacemakers; whereas the world says we need to have all our sexual fantasies fulfilled, Jesus responds we need to be pure of heart; whereas the world says we need to have all our appetites satiated, Jesus says we need to hunger and thirst for holiness. We’re tempted to construct our life on what everyone else is doing, or on our whims, or to maximize our pleasure and minimize our pain. It’s hard to build on Jesus when he challenges us to trust. But hard is not impossible. And God gives us himself to make the difficulty lighter and sweeter. God encourages us to do so today. “Trust in the Lord forever!,” God calls us through Isaiah. “A strong city have we; he sets up walls and ramparts to protect us.” The Psalm says, “It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man. It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes.” This is true and Advent is a season for us to act on it.
  • For those of us in the priesthood and in religious life, there’s a special call for us to go more deeply into today’s passage. In some sense, by the choice we have made in response to the Lord’s call, we have in fact determined to build our life on Christ. By our chastity, we build our life on his love; by our obedience, we build our life on his will; by our poverty, we build our existence on the treasure of his kingdom. But sometimes we can build only partially on his command, “Follow me!” We can build ourselves on “most of his word,” or his “main message,” but occasionally not take advantage of the words of his that are too difficult or seem too good to be true. We don’t build our life on his word that whatever we ask God the Father in his Son’s name, the Father will hear. Today at the beginning of Advent, the Church wants us to turn to Jesus and ask him for the grace to build an even more solid foundation on him by really grounding ourselves in those part of his Gospel that are easiest for us to hear but not live.
  • Today the Church celebrates the feast of someone who trusted in the Lord as an eternal rock, built his life on living his word, and tried to help others similarly construct their lives on the only solid foundation. In his young 30s, in the early 370s, St. Ambrose was prefect of Gaul — an enormous responsibility. He believed the Christian faith but he hadn’t yet been baptized. After the death of the Bishop of Milan, he went to where the election was to take place to make sure that there were no fights between the Orthodox Catholics of the time and the heretic Arians (who believed that Jesus was the greatest man who ever lived and chosen by God but not God). He gave a little speech reminding everyone of Christ’s teachings on peace and mutual love, at which point someone in the crowd began to shout “Ambrose, Bishop!” It soon started to be echoed by everyone, Catholics and Arians alike. He tried to run away from the responsibilities, but when the emperor Valentinian heard of the election, he consented to it, proud that he had chosen as Prefect someone with the virtues capable of serving as a Bishop. Eventually Ambrose was baptized, then ordained a deacon, a priest, and then, on this day in 374, a bishop. After his ordinations, he set himself to learning the Christian faith in such detail that he could really feed others with this nourishment — becoming eventually a doctor of the Church, one of the greatest teachers in the history of the faith. This required a great deal of study under the tutelage of a priest, Simplicianus, but he did it and grew by yoking himself to the Lord in Sacred Scripture. He built his life solidly on that rock and then helped others to do the same. He taught by his example, putting the word into practice, constantly seeking to remind people of God’s mercy and making it a rule of life, harmonizing battling emperors, family members and others. St. Augustine, who was converted under his guidance, wrote that whenever he tried to speak with Ambrose, Ambrose was surrounded by a crowd of the needy, whom we would treat with great patience, helping to address their problems as if he were still addressing the great problems of the entire Province of Gaul. When a famine broke out, he sold many of the sacred vessels in order to care for the poor. When people suffered injustice, he risked his own life to challenge the wrong-doers, including the emperor, because he was made strong in his living relationship with the Word of God and the Word-made-flesh. We see that strength in this morning’s breviary lesson taken from one of his letters, to a young bishop, written at a time of great upheaval in society and the Church. He showed him us the way to imitate him in putting today’s lessons from Sacred Scripture into practice. We see how much he incorporates both the words and the meaning of Scripture: “Sitting at the helm of the Church, you pilot the ship against the waves. Take firm hold of the rudder of faith so that the severe storms of this world cannot disturb you. The sea is mighty and vast, but do not be afraid, for as Scripture says: ‘He has founded it upon the seas, and established it upon the waters.’  The Church of the Lord is built upon the rock of the apostles among so many dangers in the world; it therefore remains unmoved. The Church’s foundation is unshakeable and firm against the assaults of the raging sea. Waves lash at the Church but do not shatter it. Although the elements of this world constantly beat upon the Church with crashing sounds, the Church possesses the safest harbor of salvation for all in distress.” The source of his courage was his faith in the Word on whom he had build his life.
  • God gives us a daily opportunity to build ourselves on him at the Mass. In the Liturgy of the Word, God wants us to ground ourselves anew on the rock of God’s word, provided that we try to live the word we hear rather than merely say in response to it “Thanks be to God” and “Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ.” We’re called, like Mary, to respond, “Let it be done to me according to your word!” Then we come to the liturgy of the Eucharist and have the chance to construct our life on this gift, on Christ himself, so that he can shine his light from the inside out of us. Then we have the chance, in communion with him, to build our life on the words of his great commission, to go in peace, glorifying the Lord with our life. May we respond to this great privilege and build ourselves firmly on Christ with trust so that no matter what storms come, we will be set firmly on Christ so that we might come to experience eternal tranquility in the house that God has build in heaven for all his beloved children.

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1 IS 26:1-6

On that day they will sing this song in the land of Judah:
“A strong city have we;
he sets up walls and ramparts to protect us.
Open up the gates
to let in a nation that is just,
one that keeps faith.
A nation of firm purpose you keep in peace;
in peace, for its trust in you.”Trust in the LORD forever!
For the LORD is an eternal Rock.
He humbles those in high places,
and the lofty city he brings down;
He tumbles it to the ground,
levels it with the dust.
It is trampled underfoot by the needy,
by the footsteps of the poor.

Responsorial Psalm PS 118:1 AND 8-9, 19-21, 25-27A

R. (26a) Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
or:
R. Alleluia.
Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good,
for his mercy endures forever.
It is better to take refuge in the LORD
than to trust in man.
It is better to take refuge in the LORD
than to trust in princes.
R. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
or:
R. Alleluia.
Open to me the gates of justice;
I will enter them and give thanks to the LORD.
This gate is the LORD’s;
the just shall enter it.
I will give thanks to you, for you have answered me
and have been my savior.
R. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
or:
R. Alleluia.
O LORD, grant salvation!
O LORD, grant prosperity!
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD;
we bless you from the house of the LORD.
The LORD is God, and he has given us light.
R. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
or:
R. Alleluia.

Alleluia IS 55:6

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Seek the LORD while he may be found;
call him while he is near.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel MT 7:21, 24-27

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’
will enter the Kingdom of heaven,
but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.
“Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them
will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.
The rain fell, the floods came,
and the winds blew and buffeted the house.
But it did not collapse; it had been set solidly on rock.
And everyone who listens to these words of mine
but does not act on them
will be like a fool who built his house on sand.
The rain fell, the floods came,
and the winds blew and buffeted the house.
And it collapsed and was completely ruined.”