New Beginnings, First Sunday of Advent (B), November 27, 2011 Audio Homily

Fr. Roger J. Landry

St. Anthony of Padua Parish, New Bedford MA

First Sunday in Advent, Year B

November 27, 2011

Is 63:16-17,19; 64:2-7; 1Cor 3-9; Mk 13:33-37

To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click at the bottom of the page. The following text guided this homily:

NEW BEGINNINGS

  • Among the favorite expressions of St. Josemaria Escriva, the great 20th century apostle of holiness in ordinary life, was “nunc coepi.” This is a Latin expression meaning, “Now I begin!” He would say it to encourage hope in those who had failed in a task or fallen through sin. He would often say it to himself if he had been unsuccessful in fulfilling a resolution. But he would also say it even when he or they had been faithful or by God’s grace things had turned out very well. He wrote in one of his books of spiritual counsels to his spiritual sons and daughters in Opus Dei, “Nunc coepi! Now I begin! This is the cry of a soul in love, which, at every movement  — whether it has been faithful or lacking in generosity — renews its desire to serve, to love, our God with a wholehearted loyalty.” As Christians, those who love God, we’re called to a lifetime of these new beginnings of love. The psalms continuously call us to “sing to the Lord a new song.” Even if we’re using the same words, even if we’re using the same melody, we’re always called to sing praise to the Lord with new love, new enthusiasm, new gratitude, new fervor.
  • Today we mark three new beginnings and we’re called with respect to each of them to say, “nunc coepi” and to begin to convert each of these into a new song of love for God.
  • The first is the new liturgical year that begins on the first Sunday of Advent.
    • Today is New Year’s Day in the Church. There’s a temptation sometimes to look at a new liturgical year as a humdrum and boring happening that we approach the same way we approach re-runs of television programs or movies. We know how the story ends and therefore it makes less and less of an impression on us each time. But that’s not the way God wants it and that is not what the liturgical year is meant to be.
    • As I’ve mentioned before, it’s supposed to be more like the way Red Sox fans and players alike look forward to spring training. Even though there will be 162 games next season just like this last season, even though the squad will for the most part face the same opponents in the same cities, even though the games will still be nine innings long and the diamond will have the same dimensions, there will be a whole new drama. The drama will involve how they rise to meet the challenges that will come to them within the structure of the new season. Similarly, there’s meant to be a whole new drama for us in this new liturgical season in which we, with Christ’s help, rise to meet the challenges he puts before us. Every liturgical CYCLE is supposed to be a liturgical SPIRAL: we are not meant to repeat last year’s steps but rather to retrace their direction at a higher and more intense level. The experience of last year is meant to help us to have a better season this year.
    • Prior to being elected the successor of St Peter, Pope Benedict wrote, “The purpose of the Church’s year is continually to rehearse her great history of memories, to awaken the heart’s memory so that it can discern the star of hope. It is the beautiful task of Advent to awaken in all of us memories of goodness and thus to open doors of hope.” The whole purpose of the liturgical cycle is to awaken the heart’s memory, to have us not merely review and relive all of the events of salvation history, but to do so with greater love, gratitude, confidence and praise. All of the acts of salvation history, from the Jews’ long preparation for the Messiah that we hear about from the Prophet Isaiah in the first reading, to Christ’s second coming that he describes in the Gospel, all of these acts are meant to instill us with a greater sense of God’s love for us and our call to live in and share that love. Each liturgical year is a gift for us to set our hearts on fire anew for these most important realities, to recalibrate and restoke our desires, so that our longings are not for the passing things of this world but for God and the things that will last forever.
    • It’s an opportunity for us to repent and renew. The Israelites in the first reading said that they behaved in such a way that Abraham and Jacob wouldn’t recognize them, and it wasn’t God’s fault. They say they behaved as those whom God doesn’t rule, like those who don’t call upon His name. In other words, they behaved like everyone else. “We sinned,” they said. So, too often we Catholics behave like everyone else. We don’t act like children of God, like followers of Christ, like temples of the Holy Spirit and co-heirs with the saints. We know more about the lives of Hollywood celebrities than we do about the great heroes of our faith. We spend more time waiting in line on Black Friday than we do in Church on Good Friday. We spend more time putting Christmas lights up on our houses and decorating and watering Christmas trees than we do spreading the light of Christ and keeping ourselves spiritually watered so that we may be ever green, ever fresh in faith.
    • Today is a day in which we say, “Nunc, coepi!” “Now I begin again!,” placing God first and seeking to have our heart beat with greater love and our mouths erupt with a new song of praise.
  • The second new beginning is the start of the centennial year of our parish’s dedication.
    • On November 28, 1912, Bishop Daniel Feehan, depicted up here in our Christ the King stained glass window behind Pope Pius XI to the right of the altar, came here to dedicate this beautiful Church to the worship of God. Tomorrow, November 28, we begin the 100th year of that worship.
    • This centennial year is not supposed to be something in which we merely look back to the glorious history of our parish. It’s not supposed to be an excuse to have a big Mass with the bishop and a big dinner to rejoice with present parishioners and those who grew up here who have moved far away. It’s certainly not meant to be merely an excuse to raise money, as happens in a lot of places. It’s meant to be, primarily, an opportunity for all of us, together, to say, “Nunc coepimur!,” “Now we begin again!”
    • This centennial year is meant to help us experience a thorough spiritual renewal, individually and as a community. It’s supposed to fill us, to renew the memories of our heart for all the graces God has given us here, the sacraments we’ve received, the friends we’ve made, the great inheritance we’ve been given through the sacrifices of so many who have gone before us here.
    • At the beginning of the Mass, we prayed together our centenary prayer, something I’m asking you to pray once a day for at least the next hundred days if not throughout the entire year. If you can, please pray it as a family or a couple in the morning, or when you have dinner together, or before you go to bed, or at the time you pray. Or unite yourself to St. Anthony and all those parishioners who by God’s mercy are now in the Church triumphant and pray it alone. Or come here to daily Mass or the afternoon holy hour when we’ll pray it as a parish family. But please pray it.
    • The text of the prayer evokes the type of renewal we’re asking God to give us, individually and as a community.
      • “Heavenly Father, A century ago the hardworking people of St. Anthony’s built a beautiful temple to your glory and since then you have been showering down graces to form us into a spiritual house made out of living stones.”
        • That points to the Latin inscription over the arch on the central doors at the front of the Church, Aedificarunt Domino Opifices Sancti Antonii.
        • It also points to the fact that the Lord wants to make of us, through the graces of his love, his word, the sacraments, a temple made of living stones, not marble, wood, bricks and glass, but men, women, boys and girls all of whom build themselves and their lives on Christ the corner stone. The Lord wants to restore us this year much more resplendently than Msgr. Levesque and others restored this Church back in 1995.
      • We go on to pray: “It is in this holy place that your beloved Son continues to stretch out his arms to embrace us, your angels continue to hover over us and guide us, and the radiance of your light continues to shine in full splendor, strengthening us to bring that light of truth and blaze of charity to the world around us.”
        • This points to three of the most memorable characteristics of our Church whose meaning we’re called to grasp.
        • Jesus stretches out his arms for us in the famous vision of St. Anthony, showing his desire for us to embrace him in Holy Communion
        • The 194 angels in our Church show us not only a glimpse of heaven but of God’s care for us that he sends his angels to guard us and lift us up toward him.
        • The nearly 4000 lights for which people travel for hours to come to see are meant to pale in beauty, power and luminescence compared to the way Jesus the light of the world wants us to radiate his light.
      • Then we get to the heart of the renewal that we’re asking for: “As we gratefully celebrate 100 years adoring you in this sanctuary, we beg you, through the intercession of St. Anthony, to grant us a thorough renewal in faith.”
      • Then we talk about what that renewal means:
        • “Fill us with the same courage as our ancestors to dare to do something great for you.”
          • Our ancestors had the spiritual guts to respond to Fr. Deslauriers’ summons to build something truly great for God, that none of the Churches in New Bedford were yet beautiful enough for God. They were poor. They were relative nobodies, putting in slavish hours at the various factories, on the docks and in other areas. Yet they, together, built one of the greatest and most beautiful parish Churches in New England not to mention the country. We need to have that same courage to dare. God can do something great with us, but we need to have the faith they had to believe he can, and with love to cooperate with that plan.
        • “Draw others here, as you once attracted waves of immigrants, to enrich us and be enriched by your Son.”
          • We ask God’s help to make our parish grow, by attracting people back to the practice of the faith. Just like every parish in New Bedford, we’re losing parishioners, to death, to illness, to moving, to the modern phenomenon of drifting away from the practice of the faith. We’re losing young families because they’re choosing to go to the suburbs where there are more young families with kids their children can befriend. We’re asking God to help us reverse that trend.
          • But it’s also a prayer for us to recognize the richness of every person who comes here — regardless of whether they’re French, or Portuguese, or Irish or Mayan — and to get us to welcome and treat them as a true treasure, welcoming them the way we would want to welcome Christ, the way the innkeepers should have welcomed Joseph and Mary. This is something that all of us need to work more on, to create that welcoming familial atmosphere in which people, once they come, want to stay and to commit themselves to walking together with us on the pilgrimage toward heaven.
        • “Make us all, through the Eucharist, a tabernacle of your presence and an extension of your Son’s self-giving love.”
          • The reason why this parish Church exists is principally for the celebration of the Holy Eucharist and the point of the Holy Eucharist is not just to be able to put Jesus in the tabernacle but to make us a tabernacle, to make us individually and as a parish family, a holy place where he dwells, to make us his hands, his feet, his ears, his eyes, his heart — in short to make us his mystical body — and bring his love to all those around us who need his love.
        • Finally we turn to the last things, what we focus on during the first half of Advent, about the longing we are called to have for Christ’s second coming, whether at the end of time or at the end of our life or our loved one’s lives, whichever comes first: “Mercifully welcome into your arms the members of this parish who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith. And inspire us anew, through the celestial beauty of this Church, to hunger and thirst above all for the holiness that will bring us to contemplate forever the beauty of your heavenly home.”
          • We carry out our duty here to pray for those who have gone before us, many of whom we’ve known, our family members, our friends. We pray for them here in case they need our prayer, just as we hope that those after us will pray for us, which is yet another reason why we need to work hard to strengthen this parish so that in another 100 years, there are people, building on our foundations of faith, praying for us still in this sacred spot.
          • We also prayerfully call to mind that the beauty of this Church has a purpose, to inspire us and others to seek after the beauty of God that inspired this architecture and art in that place that eye has not seen nor ear heard.
        • The last new beginning we mark today is the new English translation of the Roman Missal, which we begin to use at Masses this weekend.
          • The ultimate purpose of the new translation is to help us to worship God better here at Mass.
          • The very fact that we’re using some new words will help to break all of us — both priests and faithful — out of the routine that can normally set in to our liturgical worship. We’re going to be forced to concentrate more on the words, not to go through the motions. The fact that the new words we’re using are also more faithful to the Latin original, more faithful to Sacred Scripture, more faithful to the thoughts of the great saints will also help us not just to pray in a new way but to pray better.
          • But it is going to require work on our part. It’s a more challenging translation than the much simpler translation we’ve been using for the last 40 years. There may be words that are new, which is the reason why in last week’s bulletin I put in a lexicon of some of those words. Some of the new phrases may not make sense if you don’t have a profound grasp of the Bible, which is why I put in this weekend’s bulletin a list of some of the Scriptural allusions. To appreciate and profit from this much richer translation will require an investment of your time, reading the fliers I’ve made available to you for the past year and a half, clicking on the links on the parish website to read more so that you may understand more. But it’s an effort that’s well worth it.
          • I’d also say that as we begin to use this new translation, it’s important to focus not so much on saying the new words but praying them, which means saying them to God with love and devotion. There will be a temptation for us to focus on whether we “like” or “dislike” particular changes, but I’d strongly urge you to avoid this temptation, even if you happen to love the new translation in comparison to the past. The point is not whether the translation corresponds or not to our aesthetic preferences, but rather whether we’re translating our lives and affections to correspond to the words we’re praying. Pope Benedict says that the “ars celebrandi,” the way priests and faithful are called to pray the Mass should come from St. Benedict’s old instruction to his monks, “mens concordet voci,” that our heart and soul should correspond to the words we’re saying, that are focus should be not on whether we like or dislike the words, but on whether we’re praying the words not just with our lips but our lives.
          • Today, all of us are called to say together with respect to the Mass, “Nunc coepi!,” “Nunc coepimur!” Now I begin to pray it, Now we begin to pray it. The new translation objectively will help the whole Church in the English-speaking world to pray the Mass more faithfully and better in an objective sense, but each of us is called to focus, subjectively, on putting more of ourselves into the praying the Mass, so that individually and as a parish, we may all pray the Mass better to the praise and glory of God.
        • Paul in today’s second reading tells the Corinthians and us that we are “not lacking in any spiritual gift” as we “wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The Advent, this centennial year, this new translation, are all spiritual gifts given to us by God in which he seeks to reveal himself to us and reveal where he wishes to lead us. They are grace-filled opportunities for us to rededicate ourselves as the temple of his presence. They are opportunities for us to begin again to pray the Mass as it ought to be prayed, with maximal love, gratitude and alertness as Christ is revealed for us in all his humility as our spiritual food and nourishment for the journey. Jesus wishes to give us the grace, as he says in the Gospel, to “wake up” and be “alert” to these spiritual realities, to the meaning of time, to the meaning of the Church, to the meaning of the Mass and like a “doorkeeper” to open wide the doors of our hearts to receive all these blessings with the love with which he and his gifts should always be received.
        • Nunc coepi! Let us together sing a new, even more beautiful, song to the Lord!

The readings for today’s Mass were:

Reading 1IS 63:16B-17, 19B; 64:2-7

You, LORD, are our father,
our redeemer you are named forever.
Why do you let us wander, O LORD, from your ways,
and harden our hearts so that we fear you not?
Return for the sake of your servants,
the tribes of your heritage.
Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down,
with the mountains quaking before you,
while you wrought awesome deeds we could not hope for,
such as they had not heard of from of old.
No ear has ever heard, no eye ever seen, any God but you
doing such deeds for those who wait for him.
Would that you might meet us doing right,
that we were mindful of you in our ways!
Behold, you are angry, and we are sinful;
all of us have become like unclean people,
all our good deeds are like polluted rags;
we have all withered like leaves,
and our guilt carries us away like the wind.
There is none who calls upon your name,
who rouses himself to cling to you;
for you have hidden your face from us
and have delivered us up to our guilt.
Yet, O LORD, you are our father;
we are the clay and you the potter:
we are all the work of your hands.

Responsorial Psalm PS 80:2-3, 15-16, 18-19

R/ (4) Lord, make us turn to you; let us see your face and we shall be saved.
O shepherd of Israel, hearken,
from your throne upon the cherubim, shine forth.
Rouse your power,
and come to save us.
R/ Lord, make us turn to you; let us see your face and we shall be saved.
Once again, O LORD of hosts,
look down from heaven, and see;
take care of this vine,
and protect what your right hand has planted
the son of man whom you yourself made strong.
R/ Lord, make us turn to you; let us see your face and we shall be saved.
May your help be with the man of your right hand,
with the son of man whom you yourself made strong.
Then we will no more withdraw from you;
give us new life, and we will call upon your name.
R/ Lord, make us turn to you; let us see your face and we shall be saved.

Reading 21 COR 1:3-9

Brothers and sisters:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father
and the Lord Jesus Christ.

I give thanks to my God always on your account
for the grace of God bestowed on you in Christ Jesus,
that in him you were enriched in every way,
with all discourse and all knowledge,
as the testimony to Christ was confirmed among you,
so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift
as you wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ.
He will keep you firm to the end,
irreproachable on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.
God is faithful,
and by him you were called to fellowship with his Son,
Jesus Christ our Lord.

AlleluiaPS 85:8

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Show us Lord, your love;
and grant us your salvation.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel MK 13:33-37

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Be watchful! Be alert!
You do not know when the time will come.
It is like a man traveling abroad.
He leaves home and places his servants in charge,
each with his own work,
and orders the gatekeeper to be on the watch.
Watch, therefore;
you do not know when the Lord of the house is coming,
whether in the evening, or at midnight,
or at cockcrow, or in the morning.
May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping.
What I say to you, I say to all: ‘Watch!’”