Advent Conversion, Second Sunday of Advent (B), December 4, 2011 Audio Homily

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Anthony of Padua Church, New Bedford, MA
Second Sunday in Advent, Year B
December 4, 2011
Is 40:1-5, 9-11; 2 Pet 3:8-14; Mk 1:1-8

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

ADVENT CONVERSION

  • Last Sunday, on New Year’s Day in the Church, we talked about how every liturgical year is not meant to be a liturgical cycle, merely retracing the same-old, same-old events of yesteryear, but a liturgical spiritual in which together with Christ we approach the same events at a deeper and more mature level. This is key on the second and third Sundays of Advent, when the Church leads us on pilgrimage to the Jordan River, so that we might enroll anew in the school of St. John the Baptist, hear his message and put it into action in our lives. This year God wants us to embrace John and his message at a deeper and more mature level than we’ve ever done before. John was chosen by God the Father from all eternity to get his people ready to receive His Son, who was already walking toward the Jordan River to inaugurate his public ministry. Advent literally means “coming toward” and St. John the Baptist has the mission to get us ready for the Lord who is coming to us. And the way we’re called to get ready to embrace him is deep, total conversion.
  • St. Mark tells us that John the Baptist appeared in the desert “proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins,” and the people were responding. The whole Judean countryside and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized “as they acknowledged their sins.” He was a figure of repentance and reparation — dressing in camel’s hair, eating locusts and wild honey — with a message of repentance. St. Mark sees him as the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy from the first reading, “I am sending my messenger ahead of you to prepare your way. A voice of one crying out in the desert, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord and make straight his paths.” John was not the one crying out in the desert, but the voice, the loudspeaker, the sound system, of the one crying in the desert.” The one crying out in the desert was the very person to whom he referred at the end of today’s Gospel, the “one mightier than I” who “is coming after me,” whose sandals he was not worthy to stoop and loosen, who would baptize with the Holy Spirit. That Word for whom John was the voice is Jesus himself. That’s why it’s no surprise that John the Baptist’s words of repentance fore-echoed Jesus’ own first words, “Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand.” John was preparing the way for Jesus because he was announcing the need for conversion and for faith, which was exactly the purpose Jesus himself came. To be able to embrace Jesus requires conversion and faith.
  • The description of the process of conversion as “preparing the way of the Lord and making straight his paths” is very instructive. 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. In order to embrace Jesus at his coming, we need to prepare a way by making our crooked paths straight, rough ways smooth, and even charting paths through the mountains of pride and the valleys of a shallow prayer life and spiritual minimalism. For any of us who have seen the length of time it has taken for the work at the intersection of 195 and 140 to be done, we recognize that this path of building new roads isn’t easy or quick. It requires a lot of hard work. It involves far more than removing debris; it involves long days and long nights. That’s what conversion is. We won’t be able to embrace Jesus in a new life as he comes, however, unless we do this work.
  • Over the course of the past year, I’ve had a chance to give many talks on the new evangelization, the message we’re called to bring to the world. In my talks, I’ve relied a lot on a brilliant speech given by Pope Benedict 11 years ago in Sicily, when he was still Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. He said that the first part of the message the Church needs to bring to the world is the message of John the Baptist, the message of Christ, “repent and believe.” He also describes what that conversion really is all about.
  • “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 not merely judge according to the current opinions. Thereby, to convert means: not to live as all the others live, not do what all do, not feel justified in dubious, ambiguous, evil actions just because others do the same; begin to see one’s life through the eyes of God; thereby 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. … Conversion” (Metanoia) means … to come out of self-sufficiency to discover and accept our indigence – the indigence of others and of the Other, His forgiveness, His friendship. Unconverted life is self-justification (I am not worse than the others); conversion is humility in entrusting oneself to the love of the Other, a love that becomes the measure and the criteria of my own life.”
  • One of the biggest challenges for the Church in the United States is so many Christians are trying to live like everyone else does rather than as Christ does, as the saints do. Rather than allow our faith to be leaven that lifts the whole world up, the toxins of the world enter our homes and even our Churches . We take our categories not from God but from worldly gurus. The world doesn’t like conversion, so we downplay our need for it, pretending that we’re not sinners or, if we are, pretending as if we don’t need God’s forgiveness, or even if we recognize that we do need his mercy, pretending that we don’t need to receive it in the way he himself established: the sacrament of confession. The world doesn’t like the worship of God because it wants to worship the self and so it finds the Mass “boring” because it doesn’t entertain them. The fact that it’s geared toward pleasing God rather than pleasing us allows them to dismiss it. The world doesn’t like the commitment of marriage, that God created marriage in the beginning as the union of one man and one woman, open to life, enduring until death. The world doesn’t like these types of commitments, and so many don’t even bother getting married, many others who do marry for as long as the two shall love rather than as long as the two shall live. The world doesn’t like the idea of a Church founded by God with a structure and a leader who speaks in Jesus’ name; the world prefers that the Church be “democratic” and that we, rather than God, determine what’s right and what’s wrong. In short, despite its lip service, the world really doesn’t like Jesus, especially his standard of behavior, given to us in unmistakable candor in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus says to be happy we need to be poor in spirit; the world says we need to be rich; Jesus says we need to be so sensitive to others that we mourn for them; the world says we should turn everything into a joke. Jesus says we’ll be happy when we’re meek and make peace; the world says we’ll be happy when we pummel anyone who has the stupidity to frustrate our plans. The world says we’ll be happy when we give free reign to sexual indulgence and fantasy. Christ says we’ll be happy only when we’re pure of heart. The world says to be happy we need to be voted Miss Congeniality or Most Popular; Jesus says we’ll be blessed when we’re persecuted, even hated and killed, because of our fidelity to him and to the truth.
  • Today, St. John the Baptist tells us all of our need to turn away from our worldly standards, from all of our sins, from all of our idols, reach out for God’s mercy, and begin truly believing in Jesus, walking with Jesus, and not just believing all that he taught, but beginning to base our entire existence on it and to spread those words to others. Conversion, as the future Pope Benedict said, means to rethink and question our own way of life, to make the commitment not to live as the crowds live but as Christ and his saints live, not to feel justified simply because we can point to a poll that everyone else is living that way, but to begin to see our whole life through the eyes of God and make the love of God and others for real the measure and the criteria of our life. This is a message each of us is called to ponder and act upon in a more profound way this new liturgical year.
  • John the Baptist’s mission was not merely to announce the need for repentance, but to point out how sins would be forgiven. A short time after the scene in today’s Gospel, he saw that “more powerful one… whose sandals he was unworthy to loosen” coming to him at the Jordan. He exclaimed, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world” (Jn 1:29). If John were physically present here today, dressed in camel hair and his leather belt, he would say to us, “Behold the One of whom I was speaking! Behold the Lamb of God, who comes to take away your sins and the sins of the world” and his hands would point to Christ’s presence in the confessional through his priests. John the Baptist didn’t have the ability to forgive sins in God’s name, only to call others to recognize their need for forgivneness. But Jesus, on the night he rose from the dead, gave his apostles, and through them, their successors and priestly collaborators, Jesus’ own power not just to preach the necessity of conversion but to take those sins away and impart the grace to make our crooked ways straight and rough ways smooth, to level our mountains and fill-in our valleys, in short to stop living as everyone else does and begin living by Jesus’ own standards. It’s in the confessional where, through the same priests through which he gives us his body and blood in the Eucharist, the Lamb of God takes away our sins, the sins for which he paid such a precious price on Calvary.
  • The Lamb of God is coming toward us to take away our sins! That is why this message of the Baptist is such “Good News” and not bad news. This is the way God not only announces “Comfort, o comfort my people!,” as he did in today’s first reading, but brings it about. We’re sinners, yes, but God comes to save us from those sins, if we repent and go to him. It’s true that we’re not worthy to untie the straps of Jesus’ sandals. It’s true all the more that we’re not worthy to receive Him in Holy Communion. But the Lord wants to make us worthy by “saying the word” and “healing our souls” through the voice of his priests. Our conversion is the way the Lord wants us to celebrate his birth in Bethlehem, because it will allow him to be truly reborn in us this Christmas. Our conversion is the best way for us to prepare for his coming at the end of time, because through sacramental absolution we make ourselves ready no matter what day or hour he comes. Our conversion is the best way for us to prepare to receive him worthily in the Eucharist.
  • We finish with the words of the beautiful hymn with which we began our prayer today.

On Jordan’s bank the Baptist’s cry
Announces that the Lord is nigh.
Awake and hearken for he brings
Glad tidings from the King of Kings.

Then cleansed be every soul from sin,
Make straight the way of God within.
Prepare we in our hearts a home,
Where such a mighty guest may Come.

The readings for today’s Mass were:

Reading 1 IS 40:1-5, 9-11

Comfort, give comfort to my people,
says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her
that her service is at an end,
her guilt is expiated;
indeed, she has received from the hand of the LORD
double for all her sins.

A voice cries out:
In the desert prepare the way of the LORD!
Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God!
Every valley shall be filled in,
every mountain and hill shall be made low;
the rugged land shall be made a plain,
the rough country, a broad valley.
Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed,
and all people shall see it together;
for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.

Go up on to a high mountain,
Zion, herald of glad tidings;
cry out at the top of your voice,
Jerusalem, herald of good news!
Fear not to cry out
and say to the cities of Judah:
Here is your God!
Here comes with power
the Lord GOD,
who rules by his strong arm;
here is his reward with him,
his recompense before him.
Like a shepherd he feeds his flock;
in his arms he gathers the lambs,
carrying them in his bosom,
and leading the ewes with care.

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

R/ (8) Lord, let us see your kindness, and grant us your salvation.
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/ Lord, let us see your kindness, and grant us your salvation.
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/ Lord, let us see your kindness, and grant us your salvation.
The LORD himself will give his benefits;
our land shall yield its increase.
Justice shall walk before him,
and prepare the way of his steps.
R/ Lord, let us see your kindness, and grant us your salvation.

Reading 2 2 PT 3:8-14

Do not ignore this one fact, beloved,
that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years
and a thousand years like one day.
The Lord does not delay his promise, as some regard “delay,”
but he is patient with you,
not wishing that any should perish
but that all should come to repentance.
But the day of the Lord will come like a thief,
and then the heavens will pass away with a mighty roar
and the elements will be dissolved by fire,
and the earth and everything done on it will be found out.

Since everything is to be dissolved in this way,
what sort of persons ought you to be,
conducting yourselves in holiness and devotion,
waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God,
because of which the heavens will be dissolved in flames
and the elements melted by fire.
But according to his promise
we await new heavens and a new earth
in which righteousness dwells.
Therefore, beloved, since you await these things,
be eager to be found without spot or blemish before him, at peace.

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 MK 1:1-8

The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God.

As it is written in Isaiah the prophet:
Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you;
he will prepare your way.
A voice of one crying out in the desert:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight his paths.”

John the Baptist appeared in the desert
proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
People of the whole Judean countryside
and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem
were going out to him
and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River
as they acknowledged their sins.
John was clothed in camel’s hair,
with a leather belt around his waist.
He fed on locusts and wild honey.
And this is what he proclaimed:
“One mightier than I is coming after me.
I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals.
I have baptized you with water;
he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”