Getting Transformed by God’s Advent Fire, Second Saturday of Advent, December 10, 2016

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Saturday of the Second Week of Advent
December 10, 2016
Sir 48:1-4.9-11, Ps 80, Mt 17:9-13

 

To listen to an audio recording of this homily, please click here: 

 

The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • Today, as we hit the half-way point of Advent, Jesus speaks in the Gospel about St. John the Baptist, saying that he is the new Elijah whom the Jews were awaiting to prepare them for the Advent of the Messiah. Many didn’t recognize St. John the Baptist to be fulfilling this mission and “did to him what they pleased,” just like Elijah himself was persecuted, and harassed and hunted down by the prophets and royal patrons of the pagan god Ba’al.
  • There’s something in the link in today’s readings between Elijah and St. John the Baptist that we should catch. What was John the Baptist’s mission? It was more than level mountains, filling valleys, straightening out crooked ways and smoothing out rough ones. It was to announce the love of God and to help the people get ready to response with passionate love in return. We see this in what the Book of Sirach says about Elijah today. The reading is full of “fire.” Sirach tells us, “Like a fire there appeared the prophet Elijah,” his words were a “flaming furnace,” in his “zeal” three times he “brought down fire,” he was even taken aloft in a “whirlwind of fire, in a charity with fiery horses.” Elijah’s whole prophetic work was to bring the Lord’s fire to earth and to help people respond with fire. It was the same thing with St. John the Baptist. His mission wasn’t a cold engineering project to build roads. It was to help get us ready to embrace Christ who when he finally began his public ministry announced, “I have come to set the world on fire and how I am in anguish until it is enkindled.” John the Baptist’s work was, in a sense, to get all the wood ready for this world-embracing blaze.
  • Advent is a time in which we are called to ponder the fire of God’s love and to examine whether we meet that fiery love with passionate love in return. A few years back, Pope Benedict gave an unforgettable Pentecost homily when he talked about how God wants to light us on fire with the fire of the Holy Spirit. But he said many of us have to overcome a fear of that holy flame: “The divine fire frightens us, [because] we are afraid of being ‘burned,’ we prefer to stay just as we are. This is because our life is often formed according to the logic of having, of possessing and not the logic of self-giving. Many people believe in God and admire the person of Jesus Christ, but when they are asked to lose something of themselves, then they retreat, they are afraid of the demands of faith. There is the fear of giving up something nice to which we are attached; the fear that following Christ deprives us of freedom, of certain experiences, of a part of ourselves. On one hand, we want to be with Jesus, follow him closely, and, on the other hand, we are afraid of the consequences that this brings with it. … We must know how to recognize that losing something, indeed, losing ourselves for the true God, the God of love and of life, is in reality gaining ourselves, finding ourselves more fully. Whoever entrusts himself to Jesus already experiences in this life peace and joy of heart, which the world cannot give, and it cannot even take it away once God has given it to us. So it is worthwhile to let ourselves be touched by the fire of the Holy Spirit! The suffering that it causes us is necessary for our transformation. It is the reality of the cross: It is not for nothing that in the language of Jesus ‘fire’ is above all a representation of the cross, without which Christianity does not exist.” Pope Benedict said that the flame of God’s love is burning bush from which God spoke to Moses (Ex 3:2). “It is a flame that burns but does not destroy, that, in burning, brings forth the better and truer part of man, as in a fusion it makes his interior form emerge, his vocation to truth and to love.  … It causes a transformation, and it must for this reason consume something in man, the waste that corrupts him and hinders his relations with God and neighbor.”
  • That’s what’s supposed to happen in us during Advent. That’s the mission of the St. John the Baptist, who prepared people for the One after him who would baptize “with the Holy Spirit and with fire” (Lk 3:16). For many of us that requires conversion. We prayed in today’s Psalm, “Lord, make us turn to you; let us see your face, and we shall be saved!” These words frame the essential work of Elijah who with fire battled against the worship of sex in the cult of Ba’al, who battled with fire, in King Ahab and Jezebel, against the worship of self and the corruption of freedom to do evil rather than to love, and who battled with zeal against the materialism of living off of material bread in the great fast of 40 days on his journey to Horeb and in the great miracle done for the widow of Zarephath and her son. He was one who himself God had turned to him. He was one to whom God had revealed his face. And he sought to reveal that face of God to others so that they, too, might turn to God with faith and be saved. With the fire of God he wanted to urge, on God’s behalf, for people to turn back to God by turning the “hearts of fathers toward their sons,” so that they might pass on the faith as God had commanded them through Moses not just to the next generation but through the next generation to many generations to come.
  • The greatest way we get filled with fire is here at Mass. St. Ephrem, fourth century Syrian doctor of the Church, used to say that when we receive Jesus in the Holy Eucharist we receive “fire.” It’s here that we get ignited to go out and light the world ablaze. So today let us receive the word of Elijah and John the Baptist and go out to meet Christ and be filled with his fire.

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1
SIR 48:1-4, 9-11

In those days,
like a fire there appeared the prophet Elijah
whose words were as a flaming furnace.
Their staff of bread he shattered,
in his zeal he reduced them to straits;
By the Lord’s word he shut up the heavens
and three times brought down fire.
How awesome are you, Elijah, in your wondrous deeds!
Whose glory is equal to yours?
You were taken aloft in a whirlwind of fire,
in a chariot with fiery horses.
You were destined, it is written, in time to come
to put an end to wrath before the day of the LORD,
To turn back the hearts of fathers toward their sons,
and to re-establish the tribes of Jacob.
Blessed is he who shall have seen you
and who falls asleep in your friendship.

Responsorial Psalm
PS 80:2AC AND 3B, 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.
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.

Gospel
MT 17:9A, 10-13

As they were coming down from the mountain,
the disciples asked Jesus,
“Why do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?”
He said in reply, “Elijah will indeed come and restore all things;
but I tell you that Elijah has already come,
and they did not recognize him but did to him whatever they pleased.
So also will the Son of Man suffer at their hands.”
Then the disciples understood
that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist.