Receiving the Downpour of God’s Grace Incarnate, Third Wednesday of Advent, December 14, 2016

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Wednesday of the Third Week of Advent
December 14, 2016
Memorial of St. John of the Cross
Is 45:6-8.18.21-25, Ps 85, Lk 7:18-23

 

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

 

The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • As we draw closer to the celebration of Christmas, Isaiah summarizes for us the type of longing for God we’re supposed to have in his words from today’s first reading that were repeated in our Responsorial Psalm: “Let the clouds rain down the Just One and the earth bring forth the Savior.” Those words comprise the refrain of perhaps the most famous Latin Advent chants of all time after the original version of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” It’s Rorate Caeli Desuper et Nubes Pluant Iustum. We turn to God and beg him to rain down his Son, the Just One, whose mission was to help make us just and holy.
  • God reminds us through Isaiah today that he didn’t establish the earth for it to be a “waste,” or just to be inhabited, but to be “lived in.” Jesus came to restore that original plan, being born, living, dying and rising so that we might have life and have it to the full. But for this to occur, the rain of God’s grace coming from above must meet good soil thirsty for God. That’s what today’s Psalm is about as we pray, “I will hear what God proclaims… for he proclaims peace to his people. Near indeed is his salvation to those who fear him.” After God the Father rains down the Just One and the earth brings forth the Savior from the womb of the Virgin, we proclaim what’s God’s plans for us: “Justice shall walk before him and salvation along the way of his steps.” In other words, Jesus the Just one will walk before us bidding us to follow him along the path of holiness, and if we journey along those steps he will guide us all the way to eternal salvation. What consoling words these are. What a consoling reality God wants them to become. But the question for us is whether we have that soil that thirst for God to rain down his Son into our lives. Whether we’re ready to receive God’s grace and allow salvation to spring up from God’s work within us. That’s why today’s Gospel, which we heard as well three days ago on Gaudete Sunday, is so important. The Church puts before us once again the figure of St. John the Baptist so that we might examine honestly whether we have been responding as we should this Advent to God’s holy action.
  • John the Baptist sends the men and women who were clinging to him to Jesus with the question, “Are you the one who is to come or should we look for another?” He wanted his disciples then and all of us now to get off the fence and if we really believe Jesus is the One to act like it. If Jesus really is the one, if he really is the long-awaited Messiah and Son of God, then the logical result is to put Jesus absolutely front and center, first and supreme in our life. If he really is the One, then it’s time for us to follow him all the way, to live in his kingdom, to rejoice in his presence, and to share that great news with others. If Jesus really is that Just One poured down from heaven, then we shouldn’t be looking for anyone or anything else, we shouldn’t be hedging our bets on the way we live, but go all in. Faith, after all, is not just an intellectual act of assent saying we believe something is true, but it’s an entrustment of our whole being to God and a staking of our entire life on what God has revealed.
  • That’s why each Advent, the Church has us focus on St. Joseph the Baptist whom Jesus identifies as the one about whom the Prophets said, “Behold I am sending my messenger ahead of you; he will prepare the way before you.” John’s work was to prepare the way for Jesus and then to point him out when at last he came. John helped us to prepare the way by echoing the prophet Isaiah (Is 40:4), who said, “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). We have to level the mountains of pride and egocentrism. We have to fill in the valleys that come from a shallow prayer life or a minimalistic way of living our faith. We have to straighten out crooked paths: if we’ve been involved in some dishonest practices or living a double life, 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 because of the details of shopping or hobbies or even our various modern addictions in which we place television programs, or sports teams, videogames or social media above him, now’s the time to get our priorities straight.
  • And once we have begun to get our lives ready to receive the Just One, then John points out how the soil of our life needs to bud forth its Savior. John points to Jesus and says, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world!” We know that that’s what led Saints Andrew and John the Evangelist to leave the Baptist and follow Christ. And in the scene we have in today’s Gospel, the Baptist sends his other disciples who were clinging to him when he was imprisoned by Herod to go to visit Jesus and ask whether he was the one or whether they should look elsewhere. Jesus’ words at the end of that dialogue might seem to be an upbraid to John and his disciples — “Blessed is the one who takes no offense at me!” — but those words, like the words Jesus said immediately afterward, that John was the greatest born of woman, that he was more than a prophet, that he was the long-awaited forerunner who would announce the coming of the Messiah, were words of praise. John was precisely blessed because he had taken no offense in Jesus. Unlike some of the Scribes and Pharisees who when Jesus worked the miracles of making the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers have newborn skin, the dead live, and the poor and sinners receive the good news, accused him of doing them by the power of the prince of devils, or castigated him for supposedly violating the Sabbath, or continued to ask him for other signs by which they could get him arrested and executed, John took no offense, and even though Herod had imprisoned him, John sent his clinging disciples to Jesus to find in him the one to whom John’s whole life — and even his incarceration and death — would point. Today John continues to point out Jesus to us and wants us, like his emissaries in today’s Gospel, to go to Jesus and enter into deeper conversation with him, to consider all of his works, to be blessed for our faith in him. He wants us to go thirsty to receive the outpouring of God’s living water from above.
  • The type of thirst we’re called to have is shown for us very powerfully in the saint we celebrate today, St. John of the Cross, whose life and whose writings on the interior life show the type of total entrustment to Jesus who is the one and the fruitfulness that comes from receiving the Lord’s rain even when everything around him seems like a wasteland. John’s father died when he was two and he, his mom and two brothers grew up in poverty. Eventually he began working in a hospital while taking simple classes and the hospital administrator paid for his education. He eventually became a Carmelite, but the worldliness and in some places sinfulness of the Carmelites led him to think that he might be called to be a Carthusian. That’s when he met with St. Teresa of Avila, the foundress of the Discalced Carmelites, who asked him to work with her to reform the whole order. He did. And he suffered for it. Many of the Carmelites did not want to be reformed and they weren’t open to the fact that this reform was coming from God. On one occasion, the unreformed Carmelites essentially imprisoned him from months in a dirty, dank cell with just a sliver of light coming in. On a second occasion, they brutalized him as he prepared for death. But the religious name he had taken in the reformed Carmelite, St. John of the Cross, was well chosen: and it was through bearing that Cross that he discovered God’s power and wisdom, writing some of his greatest spiritual works — his four great poems on the interior life that led to his four great commentaries — during those sufferings. He still thirsted for God when so many around him were were desiccating themselves and trying to desiccate him. He persevered in faithful, hopeful, loving prayer despite terrible persecutions. None of them could shake him, for even in the midst of his sufferings, he never ceased to have trust in God. He knew that the Lord was his shepherd and with him he lacked for nothing. He didn’t have doubts whether Jesus was the one even when those supposedly acting in his name were persecuting him. He wrote once, in a short series of aphorisms called The Degrees of Perfection, “Remember that everything that happens to you, whether prosperous or adverse, comes from God, so that you become neither puffed up in prosperity nor discouraged in adversity.” He saw that even his adverse tribulations came from God and maintained his courage to the end, where he died maltreated and abandoned by seemingly everyone but God. And in the process, John became Jesus the Master’s greatest teaching assistant in the school of prayer. Some of his pithy aphorisms in his Degrees of Perfection I’ve never forgotten from the time I first encountered them half a lifetime ago and they show us how to open ourselves to the downpour of God’s grace in every circumstance and how not to be scandalized in Jesus even when things around us aren’t going according to what we think ought to be the Messiah’s plan: “Remember always that you came here for no other reason that to be a saint; thus let nothing reign in your soul that does not lead you to sanctity.” “Never give up prayer, and should you find dryness and difficulty, persevere in it for this very reason. God often desires to see what love your soul has, and love is not tried by ease and satisfaction.” “Do not commit a sin for all there is in the world, or any deliberate venial sin, or any known perfection.”
  • John of the Cross helps us to see that Jesus is the affirmative answer to the question, “Are you the one who is to come?” Jesus is the Just One who cures us of our infirmities, who grants us sight, who helps us to walk by faith, who cleanses us of our leprosies, who helps to hear his voice, who raises the dead, and who proclaims the Gospel to the poor. Jesus is the Lord and there is no other, the designer and maker of the earth who did not want it to be wasted but to become his kingdom. Jesus is the One whom we should follow even when we’re imprisoned. Jesus is the one no matter what our outward circumstances to whom we can turn in prayer.
  • Rorate caeli desuper! Through St. John’s intercession, we ask the Lord to drench us with living rain from above and help us to receive now our Savior within and follow him who is Justice on the road of salvation.

The readings for today’s Mass were:

Reading 1 IS 45:6C-8, 18, 21C-25

I am the LORD, there is no other;
I form the light, and create the darkness,
I make well-being and create woe;
I, the LORD, do all these things.
Let justice descend, O heavens, like dew from above,
like gentle rain let the skies drop it down.
Let the earth open and salvation bud forth;
let justice also spring up!
I, the LORD, have created this.
For thus says the LORD,
The creator of the heavens,
who is God,
The designer and maker of the earth
who established it,
Not creating it to be a waste,
but designing it be lived in:
I am the LORD, and there is no other.
Who announced this from the beginning
and foretold it from of old?
Was it not I, the LORD,
besides whom there is no other God?
There is no just and saving God but me
.Turn to me and be safe,
all you ends of the earth,
for I am God; there is no other!
By myself I swear,
uttering my just decree
and my unalterable word:
To me every knee shall bend;
by me every tongue shall swear,
Saying, “Only in the LORD
are just deeds and power.
Before him in shame shall come
all who vent their anger against him.
In the LORD shall be the vindication and the glory
of all the descendants of Israel.”

Responsorial Psalm PS 85:9AB AND 10, 11-12, 13-14

R. (Isaiah 45:8) Let the clouds rain down the Just One, and the earth bring forth a Savior.
I will hear what God proclaims;
the LORD –for he proclaims peace to his people.
Near indeed is his salvation to those who fear him,
glory dwelling in our land.
R. Let the clouds rain down the Just One, and the earth bring forth a Savior.
Kindness and truth shall meet;
justice and peace shall kiss.
Truth shall spring out of the earth,
and justice shall look down from heaven.
R. Let the clouds rain down the Just One, and the earth bring forth a Savior.
The LORD himself will give his benefits;
our land shall yield its increase.
Justice shall walk before him,
and salvation, along the way of his steps.
R. Let the clouds rain down the Just One, and the earth bring forth a Savior.

Alleluia SEE IS 40:9-10

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Raise your voice and tell the Good News:
Behold, the Lord GOD comes with power.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel LK 7:18B-23

At that time,
John summoned two of his disciples and sent them to the Lord to ask,
“Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?”
When the men came to the Lord, they said,
“John the Baptist has sent us to you to ask,
‘Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?’”
At that time Jesus cured many of their diseases, sufferings, and evil spirits;
he also granted sight to many who were blind.
And Jesus said to them in reply,
“Go and tell John what you have seen and heard:
the blind regain their sight,
the lame walk,
lepers are cleansed,
the deaf hear, the dead are raised,
the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.
And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.”