God’s Merciful Call to Love and Life, 2nd Sunday of Advent (C), December 6, 2015

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Michael’s Church, Manhattan
Second Sunday of Advent, Year C
December 6, 2015
Bar 5:1-9, Ps 126, Phil 1:1:4-6.8-11, Lk 3:1-6

 

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

 

The following text guided today’s homily: 

“The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy!” Those words of today’s Responsorial Psalm help frame our celebration. We convene this afternoon on the Second Sunday of Advent to thank God for all he has done for us through the privilege we have to know and collaborate with the Sisters of Life. They have invited us here this afternoon for what they call “A Mass of Thanksgiving for all our friends,” in order to say thank you to God for all we have done to help them live out their life-saving and life-giving work. And we are all filled with joy this afternoon because of God’s goodness in doing this this for us and for them and for so many more of the “great things” he continues to do every day for all of us.

Today we are called to meditate on the greatest of all God has done. On the second and third Sundays of Advent each year, the Church leads us on pilgrimage to the Jordan River, so that we might enroll in the school of St. John the Baptist, hear his message and put it into action in our lives. When we meet him, John blares, “I am the voice of One crying out in the desert.” Notice, he didn’t say, “I am one crying out in the desert,” but rather, “I am the voice of one crying out in the desert.” John is the voice, the loudspeaker, the spokesperson; it’s Christ, the Word, who is the One crying out. John’s message is God’s message, which John screams at the top of his powerful lungs. The message was urgent and clear: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” In the ancient world, the roads were a mess. Every time there was a battle, the roads would be attacked and bridges destroyed, to try to stop the advance of the enemy. The weather took its toll as well, leading to all types of serious potholes and other obstacles. Any time a dignitary would be coming, they would have either to fix the roads or build new ones so that the rolling caravan accompanying him could arrive without delay and without hassle. John the Baptist was telling the people 2000 years ago what he tells us at the beginning of every Advent, that we need spiritually to prepare a similar way for Christ to come. We, too, need to make straight the paths. In the ancient world, preparing such a path meant a great deal of manual work, making crooked paths straight, rough ways smooth, and even charting paths through the mountains and valleys. For us, that pathway will not be traced on the ground or in the wilderness, but within. The work is not something that will make our hands dirty, but our souls clean.

“To make straight the paths of the Lord” means to clear the path of sin, which is the major obstacle for the Lord to come into our lives. Echoing the prophet Isaiah (Is 40:4), John the Baptist says, “Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth” (Lk 3:5). It’s key to call those topographical formations by their proper names. We have to make low the mountains of our pride and egocentrism. We have to fill in the valleys that come from a shallow prayer life and a minimalistic way of living our faith. We have to straighten out whatever crooked paths we’ve been walking: if we’ve been involved in some secret sins or living a double life, the Lord calls us through John the Baptist to end it; if we’ve been involved in some dishonest practices, we’re called to straighten them out and do restitution; if we’ve been harboring grudges or hatred, or failing to reconcile with others, now’s the time to clear away all the debris; and if we’ve been pushing God off the side of the road, if we’ve been saying to Him that we don’t really have the time for him, now’s the time to get our priorities straight.

The real meaning of conversion that the Baptist preaches and we are likewise supposed to preach as precursors of the Lamb of God who comes to take away the sins of the world was articulated best by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in a powerful address in the year 2000 to catechists. He focused on how the first message the Church must proclaim to the world and live is this message of conversion of John the Baptist that we hear at the beginning of every new liturgical year: “The fundamental content of the Old Testament is summarized in the message by John the Baptist: metanoete – Convert! There is no access to Jesus without the Baptist; there is no possibility of reaching Jesus without answering the call of the precursor, rather: Jesus took up the message of John in the synthesis of His own preaching: [repent and believe]. The Greek word for converting means: to rethink, to question one’s own and common way of living; to allow God to enter into the criteria of one’s life; to judge not merely according to the current opinions. Therefore, to convert means: not to live as all the others live, not to do what all the others are doing, not to feel justified in dubious, ambiguous, evil actions just because others are doing the same; to begin to see one’s life through the eyes of God; therefore looking for the good, even if uncomfortable, not aiming at the judgment of the majority of men, but on the justice of God; in other words: to look for a new style of life, a new life.” That’s the life Christ came to give us to the full. But in order to be able to follow him in this path of life, we need to free ourselves from the debris hinders the path and that can occasionally shackle us.

Often when we and our contemporaries hear the call to conversion, to repentance, to penance, we can respond negatively, as if what we’re being asked to do is to focus on the “bad news” of all of our sins and failures. But the call to conversion is actually a crucial part of the Good News, because it’s an expression of God’s love giving us a second chance, or a third chance, or a 70 times 7th chance. It’s an announcement that the King is coming and wants to meet us, but he doesn’t want to ambush us by visiting us when our spiritual house is a disaster area deserving of FEMA funds. Through the work of the Baptist and the Church, he announces he’s coming and he gives us the chance to clean our house to welcome fittingly such a guest. The call to conversion is a proclamation that no matter what we’ve done, God’s forgiveness is greater than all our filth, his mercy is greater than any and every human misery.

And that brings us to something truly awesome that is beginning this Tuesday on the Solemnity of Mary’s Immaculate Conception. Pope Francis will be inaugurating the Jubilee Year of Mercy that will extend until the Solemnity of Christ the King next November. It’s fitting that the special 349-day celebration begins on the day of the Immaculate Conception, because it was on that day that the human race was first touched by God’s saving mercy, which Mary received preveniently in her soul about 48 years before her Son eternally poured out that mercy for us on the Cross. She was full of grace from the first moment of her life, which means full of God. God’s plan for us was not that we be immaculately conceived, but through the Sacraments of Baptism, Penance, and the Eucharist, through prayer and charity, it is God’s plan for us that we be full of grace, too, full of his loving mercy and presence. I’m convinced that if we could hear John the Baptist today here at 34th Street in Manhattan, he would tell us how lucky we are to have a Year of Mercy, a year in which we can not only ponder the love of God in sending his Son to die on the Cross to take away our sins and make eternal life possible, but to receive that forgiveness more fruitfully and obtain God’s help to bring others — including those family members and friends who are far from God — to receive it too. If the extraordinary apostles of the confessional — Saints John Vianney, Padre Pio, John Nepomuc, Leopoldo Mandic, Joseph Cafasso, Philip Neri and all the holy priests who have heard confessions over the course of the centuries — were able to speak to us in unison, they’d say how jealous they are of priests today. If the souls in Purgatory were able to be here, they would speak to us incessantly about how fortunate we are and urge us not to receive this grace in vain. And if we could hear God speaking, he would, I’m convinced, say, that he’s been waiting from all eternity for this year. Jesus told us that heaven rejoices more for one repentant sinner than 99 righteous persons who never needed to repent. Forgiving his children, welcoming them back with love like the Father in the parable welcomed back his Prodigal Son, is God’s greatest joy, and God already sees the confessions you and I will be making, the confessions of the people we’ll help him bring back to his grace and communion, and I’m convinced that this will be a year of great fatherly merciful jubilation for him as well.

This 349-day Jubilee Year of Mercy is beginning as the 430-day Year of Consecrated Life has two months to go, and there’s a particular fittingness in this overlap, because consecrated men and women, like our beloved Sisters of Life, are a powerful proclamation to the world of the beauty of God’s mercy shining in human lives, of people who have been touched by God’s love to such a degree that they want to spend their whole life proclaiming that the Gospel is true, that Jesus is real, and that uniting oneself to the poor, chaste and obedient Jesus, to the one who came into the world so that we might have life and have it to the full, is a pearl of great price worth giving up everything else in life. And in the particular work of the Sisters of Life we see the manifold beauty of the continuation of God’s mercy, shown in the way their whole lives are illustrations of the corporal and spiritual works of mercy: their constant prayer for mercy for the whole world, their care for women in the most desperate of circumstances and accompaniment of families in need, their bringing so many women and men to experience the depth of God’s mercy after having made choices that now they wish with all their hearts they could make differently, in bringing food cards to the hungry and thirsty, in welcoming strangers and sheltering women with nowhere else to turn, in clothing young naked babies, in burying and praying for those who have died, in teaching others the faith and counseling those with doubts, in comforting those afflicted in the present and about the past, in helping them to learn how to forgive those who have wronged them, and in giving a powerful testimony that God seeks and can bring good out of evil and that Christian hope is real. Today, we thank them for their witness of the beauty of consecrated life and for the way they are already testifying to the life-changing power of God’s mercy, and we ask God to continue to bless them and through them continue to bless us with the privilege to share in their ever urgently needed mission.

The Eucharist is Jesus’ great corporal and spiritual work of mercy. Having been prepared for him through the work of conversion announced by St. John the Baptist and having come to the Lamb of God to be cleansed by him of our sins, we are now able to approach the long-awaited Messiah and Lord, the Savior, the same Jesus who came in Bethlehem and will come on the clouds of heaven. This is where Jesus feeds our deepest hunger with himself as the Living Bread come down from heaven, where he quenches our thirst as the Living Water welling up within us to life eternal, where he clothes us with his virtues, sets us free from doubt and ignorance, heals so many of our deepest wounds, and makes us so rich in his mercy that we can lavishly go out to the world and share that mercy with others. Today, John the Baptist points us to Christ in all his mercy and says, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!” And together with the Sisters and the whole Church we recognize how blessed we are to come to this Supper of the Lord’s Mercy as we offer to the Father his Son’s body, blood, soul and divinity, in expiation for ours sins and those of the whole world. The Lord has indeed done great things for us. Let us thank him and never stop rejoicing! Amen!

 

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1 BAR 5:1-9

Jerusalem, take off your robe of mourning and misery;
put on the splendor of glory from God forever:
wrapped in the cloak of justice from God,
bear on your head the mitre
that displays the glory of the eternal name.
For God will show all the earth your splendor:
you will be named by God forever
the peace of justice, the glory of God’s worship.

Up, Jerusalem! stand upon the heights;
look to the east and see your children
gathered from the east and the west
at the word of the Holy One,
rejoicing that they are remembered by God.
Led away on foot by their enemies they left you:
but God will bring them back to you
borne aloft in glory as on royal thrones.
For God has commanded
that every lofty mountain be made low,
and that the age-old depths and gorges
be filled to level ground,
that Israel may advance secure in the glory of God.
The forests and every fragrant kind of tree
have overshadowed Israel at God’s command;
for God is leading Israel in joy
by the light of his glory,
with his mercy and justice for company.

Responsorial Psalm PS 126:1-2, 2-3, 4-5, 6

R. (3) The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy.
When the LORD brought back the captives of Zion,
we were like men dreaming.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
and our tongue with rejoicing.
R. The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy.
Then they said among the nations,
“The LORD has done great things for them.”
The LORD has done great things for us;
we are glad indeed.
R. The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy.
Restore our fortunes, O LORD,
like the torrents in the southern desert.
Those who sow in tears
shall reap rejoicing.
R. The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy.
Although they go forth weeping,
carrying the seed to be sown,
They shall come back rejoicing,
carrying their sheaves.
R. The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy.

Reading 2 PHIL 1:4-6, 8-11

Brothers and sisters:
I pray always with joy in my every prayer for all of you,
because of your partnership for the gospel
from the first day until now.
I am confident of this,
that the one who began a good work in you
will continue to complete it
until the day of Christ Jesus.
God is my witness,
how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.
And this is my prayer:
that your love may increase ever more and more
in knowledge and every kind of perception,
to discern what is of value,
so that you may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ,
filled with the fruit of righteousness
that comes through Jesus Christ
for the glory and praise of God.

Alleluia LK 3:4, 6

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths:
all flesh shall see the salvation of God.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel LK 3:1-6

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar,
when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea,
and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee,
and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region
of Ituraea and Trachonitis,
and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene,
during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas,
the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the desert.
John went throughout the whole region of the Jordan,
proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins,
as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah:
A voice of one crying out in the desert:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight his paths.
Every valley shall be filled
and every mountain and hill shall be made low.
The winding roads shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth,
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”

 

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