The Fire of Advent, Second Saturday of Advent, December 14, 2013

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
Saturday of the Second Week of Advent
Memorial of St. John of the Cross, Doctor of the Church
December 14, 2013
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, 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. Pope Francis in his apostolic exhortation “The Joy of the Gospel” says that to share our faith we must do it with “words of fire” flowing from “hearts on fire” (142, 144). When our hearts and tongues are inflamed by God’s overflowing love, then we naturally pass on the faith to others with contagious joy. Pope Francis, however, wrote the exhortation because sadly he knows that many of us do not live the faith with zeal, with fire, with love. Why’s that?
  • 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). We remember this reality every time we light the Advent wreath. The most important part of the Advent wreath is not the evergreens or the color of the candles. It’s the flame of the candles. And as Advent continues, our flame is supposed to double, triple, quadruple until we’re entirely lit with expectant love for God.
  • Today the Church celebrates the feast of St. John of the Cross, the great 16th century Carmelite doctor of the Church and the greatest teacher about the interior geography of prayer the Church ever had. He himself had been “burned” with the flame of God’s love and he spent his entire life as a teacher and spiritual director trying to help stir into a flame the vocations of so many Carmelite nuns and others. When he was asked to write down the itinerary of what God normally does to us in prayer, he couldn’t do it adequately through prose, because even though what he wrote there was true and clear, it didn’t do justice to the drama, the dialogue, of love that takes place in prayer. So he wrote in poetry, which was the least inadequate way to describe what really happens as one ascends interiorly up the Mt. Carmel of Prayer, passes through the dark night of the soul when one knows there’s a flame but can’t sense it, how one’s whole life is meant to be an insertion into the spiritual canticle of the love drama that is depicted in the Song of Songs and how we’re called to receive within the flame of the Lord’s love and melt so that we become that flame. How the holy flame of the Lord’s love changes us was the subject of his great work, The Living Flame of Love, which describes what happens in the spiritual life when we really give God permission to do his healing work, when we make straight the paths truly to receive him. His words are a fitting commentary about what the Lord wants to do in us this Mass, this Advent, this life. Origen once said, putting words in the Lord’s mouth, “Whoever draws near me draws near the fire!” As we prepare to receive within us this incarnate Fire of the love of God in the Holy Eucharist, let us ponder with St. John’s inspired words, what the one who came to light the earth on fire seeks to do within us:
  • O living flame of love that tenderly wounds my soul in its deepest center!
    Since now you are not oppressive, now consummate! if it be your will:
    tear through the veil of this sweet encounter! 
  • O sweet cautery, O delightful wound! O gentle hand!
    O delicate touch that tastes of eternal life and pays every debt!
    In killing you changed death to life.
  • O lamps of fire! in whose splendors the deep caverns of feeling,
    once obscure and blind, now give forth, so rarely, so exquisitely,
    both warmth and light to their Beloved.
  • How gently and lovingly you wake in my heart, where in secret you dwell alone;
    and in your sweet breathing, filled with good and glory,
    how tenderly you swell my heart with love.

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.