Responding to God’s Third Appeal, Fourth Sunday of Advent (EF), December 20, 2015

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Agnes Church, Manhattan
Fourth Sunday of Advent, Extraordinary Form
December 20, 2015
1 Cor 4:1-5, Lk 3:1-6

 

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

 

The following text guided today’s homily: 

Doing what our Father Asks

At daily Masses this Tuesday (in the Ordinary Form), the Church pondered Jesus’ parable of the two sons whom the Father asked to go out and work in his vineyard. The first son said “No,” but afterward had a change of heart and went. The other son said, “Yes, Sir!” but did not go. Jesus asked the chief priests and the elders of the people who were surrounding him which is the do did the Father’s will. And they replied, “The first,” to which he said, to their shocked ears in application of the Parable: “Amen, I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the Kingdom of God before you! When John [the Baptist] came to you in the way of righteousness, you did not believe him, but tax collectors and prostitutes did. Yet even when you saw that, you did not later convert and believe him!”

Today is the third consecutive Sunday in which John the Baptist comes to us in the “way of righteousness” calling us to a particular form of hard work in the vineyard of our soul. With the message God sent him to announce at the Jordan 2000 years ago and sends him to reiterate every Advent, he calls us, as a voice of Jesus crying out in the desert, to “prepare the way of the Lord,” to “make straight his paths,” to fill in the “valleys” of a shallow prayer or moral life, to lower the “mountains and hills” of our pride and vanity, to straighten the “winding roads” that distract and delay us from growth in holiness and to smooth those paths that are rough and inconsistent.

Two weeks ago when he called us to conversion, we said, “Laus tibi, Christe!” to his summons. Last week, we reiterated that praise to Christ for the summons of his precursor. Just minutes ago, we shot for the spiritual hat trick. But the question for us is whether we’ve really followed through. Have we just said “Yes, sir!” like the second son in Jesus’ parable or have we acted on that commitment? Have we, like road construction workers and civil engineers, done the hard work of conversion to which the Baptist calls us or are the same mountains and valleys, the identical winding roads, and rough ways still there?

In his parable, Jesus said to the chief priests and elders of the people, that the publicans and prostitutes were entering God’s kingdom before they were, because when these notorious classes of sinners heard the Baptist, they repented, whereas the religious leaders of the people were just giving lip service to the divine summons John was announcing. When God through his Church sends us St. John the Baptist for three consecutive Sundays in Advent, he is basically saying to us, “I’ve called you not once, not twice, but three times to conversion!” Would he be able to say to us now that we’ve responded to that call the way the obvious sinners of John’s days did or the way the so-called more religious people did?

The Special Graces of this Year

Twelve days ago we began what I’m convinced from the perspective of heaven is viewed as one of the most grace-filled years in the two millennium history of the Church, the Year of Mercy, when the floodgates of divine love are maximally opened for us to come to receive this supreme divine gift. And many have already been taking advantage of these graces. On the day it began, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, the lines were long all day at both confessionals here at St. Agnes. This past Monday was Advent Reconciliation Monday and I heard confessions for two hours at another parish close by. And in both circumstances I was happy not only not to have any time to myself in the Confessional but because so many people who had been away from God’s mercy for many years were coming to receive his forgiveness. Yesterday, at another parish in Manhattan, I heard for four hours, including many beautiful adult first confessions of those who had been raised or received into the Catholic Church in parishes where the Sacrament of God’s mercy was presented as if it were an optional, rather than an essential, aspect of our faith. How beautiful those experiences were! Many are coming to receive God’s mercy who haven’t received it for decades. Other adults are coming for the first time with consciences well prepared, full of sorrow. But God wants all of us to receive this gift.

Many times people ask me what the greatest thing about being a priest is and there so many mind-blowing experiences that it’s hard to compare anointing someone on a deathbed seconds before death and preparing her for eternity, with having bread and wine change in your hands to the eternal Son of God and having the joy of giving him to others, with being hijacked by the Holy Spirit on occasion in the pulpit as you try to share God’s saving words with his beloved sons and daughters. But as great as all of those experiences are, I think by far, the happiest, the greatest, the most profound experience of all is what happens in the Confessional, when people — whether strangers or spiritual directees I know quite well — come with humility, transparency, and sorrow and confess everything before God and leave with their souls returned back to their baptismal splendor. Jesus promised that heaven rejoices more for one repentant sinner than for 99 who never needed to repent, that every reconciliation is a resurrection when a son or daughter who was dead comes to life again, and a priest is able to recognize over and over again the incredible joy of God’s raising a son or daughter to life anew through bathing them in his clean, cool, merciful water flowing from his pierced side. God wants us all to experience that mercy. That’s why he sends John the Baptist to summon us not just to the work of making straight the paths but to the life-changing encounter that happens when God and we meet on that new road!

Advent and Conversion

The whole Advent season is meant to proclaim that joy. The hymns we sing announce it.

  • “Come, thou long expected Jesus, born to set thy people free, from our fears and sins release us, let us find our rest in thee.”
  • Veni, Veni Rex gentium, veni, redemptor omnium, ut salvas tuos famulos peccati sibi conscios.” (O come, o come, King of the Nations, Come Redeemer of all, to save your servants conscious of their sin against you)
  • “Then cleansed be every heart from sin, make straight the way of God within, prepare we in our hearts a home, where such a mighty guest may come.”
  • From “Lo, how a rose e’er blooming”: “Dispel in glorious splendor the darkness everywhere. True man yet very God, from sin and death now save us and share our every load.”
  • From the Rorate Caeli, one of the most famous Advent hymns taken from words of the Prophet Isaiah which we partially sang in today’s Introit, “Do not be angry, O Lord, and remember no longer our iniquity… We have sinned and are become as one that is unclean: and we have all fallen as a leaf, and our iniquities like the wind have carried us away… Be comforted, be comforted my people: thy salvation comes quickly: why are you consumed with grief… I will save you: fear not, for I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your redeemer… “Drop down dew, you heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain down the Just One.”

And when we finally get to Christmas, we will ring out with gusto:

  • “Hark, the Herald angels sing glory to the newborn King! Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled.”
  • “O Holy child of Bethlehem! Descend to us we pray. Cast out our sin and enter in, be born in us today.”
  • And in my favorite of all, from my French-Canadian background and service in Franco-American parishes, Minuit Chrétrien, from which “O Holy Night is taken,” we sing, “Noël! Noël! Voici le Rédempteur!” and sing to him as the “Le Rédempteur” who “a brisé toute entrave, la terre est libre et le Ciel est ouvert!” (“The Redeemer has broken all shackles. The earth is free and heaven is open.”)

Advent and Christmas are all about mercy. We also see this in the two names given to Jesus in St. Matthew’s account of the Nativity. He would be called, in fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy, Emmanuel, which means God-with-us, and St. Joseph was instructed to name him Jesus, which means “God-saves.” Jesus comes to be with us in order to save us. He comes as the Lamb of God to take away the sins of the world. And he comes to incorporate us into that offering so that together we can give the Eternal Father not only his body, blood, soul and divinity, but our body, blood, soul, sufferings, joys, everything we are and have, in expiation for our sins and the sins of the whole world so that his mercy may reign and we may all come to experience forever the joy of what it means to be loved and forgiven.

Becoming Trustworthy Stewards of God’s Mercy

One final thought. St. Paul in today’s passage from his First Letter to the Corinthians, says, with words normally applied to priests but that we can expand to encompass all of us: “Thus should one regard us: as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Now it is of course required of stewards that they be found trustworthy.” God wants us all to become servants of his Son, and trustworthy stewards of his mysteries. That begins by faithfully saying yes to what he asks and then acting on that commitment, much like the Blessed Virgin Mary who said “Fiat” and then let her whole life develop in accordance to God’s word. God also calls us, like he called Mary, and St. Paul, and St. John the Baptist, to be handmaids, to be servants of God, in his great rescue mission of mercy, seeking to bring many others to behold their redeemer, to embrace him as “Mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled,” to bring them to the means God has given us so that he may cast out our sin and enter in and be born in us anew. St. Paul was a faithful servant and trustworthy steward, so much so that he wrote in his Second Letter to the Corinthians, that he was appealing to them as am ambassador of Christ to be reconciled to God. God wants us this Christmas to become similar servants and stewards and harken as heraldic messengers the same gift of mercy incarnate in his Son wrapped meekly in swaddling clothes. This is our faith. This is the faith of the Church. How proud we are to profess it, at Advent, Christmas and always, in Christ our Lord. Amen!

 

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

A reading from the First Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians.
Thus should one regard us: as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Now it is of course required of stewards that they be found trustworthy. It does not concern me in the least that I be judged by you or any human tribunal; I do not even pass judgment on myself; I am not conscious of anything against me, but I do not thereby stand acquitted; the one who judges me is the Lord. Therefore, do not make any judgment before the appointed time, until the Lord comes, for he will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will manifest the motives of our hearts, and then everyone will receive praise from God.

The continuation of the Gospel according to St. Luke
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. He 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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