Homilies for November 2014

Homilies for Sunday Liturgies and Holy Days, November 2014

Christ in Limbo, by Fra Angelico (1442).

Solemnity of All Saints
(Not a Holy Day of Obligation)—November 1, 2014

 

The Hidden Path to Beatitude

Purpose: The Beatitudes are principles which Christ gave us in order to encourage us to aspire to true happiness. True happiness is found in God alone.

Readings: Revelation 7:2-4, 9-14; 1 John 3:1-3; Matthew 5:1-12a
http://usccb.org/bible/readings/110114.cfm

Today we remember the great multitude of saints who have gone before us and are in heaven, interceding for us before the throne of God. In this life, the world did not know them. But God knew them and cared for them. They are his children. In heaven, they see him as he is, and in seeing him as he is, they know the fullness of the joy and happiness, that he has prepared for us.

We too are the children of God, and the world does not know us. Sometimes, we do not even know ourselves. We became children of God at our baptism. We call God our Father, because that is who he is. We call ourselves his children, because that is who we are. God adopted us, and called us his own. We washed our robes and made them white in the Blood of the Lamb.

The great question that presses in on every Christian is how to live our baptism. What does it mean to live like a child of God? Our older brothers and sisters in heaven have shown us how to do it. Their lives are our guide here below. They come from every nation, race, people, and tongue. Many of their lives were filled with great distress. But they took God at his word, and lived their lives in the hope of heaven. We too have this hope, and everyone who has this hope makes himself pure, as the first letter of John exhorts us.

The Beatitudes, which Christ taught us, tell us how to make ourselves pure. They speak to our hearts, and tell us how to live our baptism. They mark the hidden path to true happiness in this life and the next. They tell us what actions and attitudes are characteristic of the Christian life. They invite us to purify our hearts, and to seek the love of God above all else. They teach us that true happiness is found, not in riches, fame, or power, but in God alone. They give us hope in the midst of trials and tribulations. They proclaim the blessings and rewards that God wants all his children to receive.

The Beatitudes have been lived by all the saints in every time and place. The lives of the saints, in every age and culture, are full of these timeless truths. Even before Christ came, many holy people lived them out through the baptism of desire. Our Christian art and literature are filled with the Beatitudes. Our great Christian artists and writers have handed down to us these basic principles, in the teaching of Christ, as the path for us to follow. It is a humble path, unnoticed by the world, a small, hidden path of little things, done with great love, the path of self-sacrifice and self-denial that can be lived out in imitation of Christ in any state of life.

We might consider, for instance, the writings of J.R.R. Tolkien, who taught the Beatitudes by telling us the story of Frodo the Hobbit. Frodo inherits a magic Ring. It turns out to be a thing of great evil. It has the power to turn him into a slave of Sauron, the fallen angel who desires to plunge all of Middle-earth into eternal darkness. The Ring must be destroyed in the fires of Mount Doom in order for Sauron’s dominion to be broken. This is an astonishing and alarming revelation, but Frodo accepts it. He realizes that he is the one ordained to carry the Ring up Mount Doom, and destroy it for the salvation of Middle-earth. As the Ring-bearer, he must firmly resist the lust for the power of the Ring.

The creature Gollum, by contrast, is someone who lives under the merciless tyranny of the lust for the power of the Ring. He cannot keep himself from trying to kill Frodo in order to take the Ring for his own delight. Frodo, however, shows great pity and great mercy toward Gollum. Frodo recognizes that he and Gollum are suffering from the same curse, and he gives Gollum every opportunity to repent.

In a laborious act of daily self-sacrifice, Frodo puts up with Gollum, and carries the Ring to its final destruction, expecting to pay for this victory with the price of his own life. In the end, the lust for the power of the Ring conquers even Frodo. Standing at the edge of the fires in Mount Doom, he finds that he cannot dispose of it. He cannot resist the desire to keep it for himself.

The salvation of Frodo and Middle-earth comes about only through the mercy of God at the last minute, when Gollum violently takes the Ring from Frodo and falls into the fires, perishing with it forever and ending the evil reign of Sauron. The moral of the story is clear. If Frodo had not shown mercy to Gollum, but instead had killed him, the Quest to destroy the Ring would have failed, and the outcome would have been far worse than death.

The teaching of Christ informs the imagination of J.R.R. Tolkien, as it does every disciple of Christ. The story of Frodo teaches us the Christian Beatitudes. It is, in fact, the one true story of all the saints. It is the story of our lives as well. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” In order to live like children of God and receive our inheritance, we must make ourselves pure through the practice of mercy and self-sacrifice. In the end, mercy is received by those who are merciful. In the end, true happiness is obtained by those who live a life of small, hidden acts of love and self-sacrifice for others. That is the way of Christ. That is the way of all the saints.

Suggestions for Further Reading: Catechism of the Catholic Church §1716-1729


 

Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed
(All Souls’ Day)—November 2, 2014

 

The Hope of the Faithful Departed

Purpose: What the Catholic faith tells us about our ultimate origin, present state, and future destiny is credible. It corresponds to the deepest desires of the human heart, and gives us a reasonable basis for hope.

Readings: Wisdom 3:1-9; Romans 5:5-11; John 6:37-40
http://usccb.org/bible/readings/110214.cfm

Faith and reason both tell us that, by our very nature, we have immortal souls. Our souls are intrinsically incorruptible. They can be separated from our bodies, but they cannot die. Once they are created, they are everlasting.

Our bodies, however, will die. When they are separated from our souls, our bodies disintegrate and return to dust. But that was not part of God’s plan for us. In the beginning, we were free from death, in body as well as soul. Of course, there were probably millions of years of evolution in the animal kingdom, but there were certainly no humans on the face of the earth, until God infused immortal souls into the bodies of our first parents. And our first parents possessed everlasting life. Unfortunately, they chose death. The separation of our bodies from our souls is a state that is unnatural for us, because we were created to be immortal. Animal death is natural. Human death is unnatural. Believe it or not, that is the truth about the human race. Yet God has not abandoned us to death.

Even though our bodies are now subject to death, our souls are not. Human experience confirms this truth. Every culture in every age has had a basic understanding of it. Pagan philosophers have recognized and defended the immortality of the human soul from the beginning of recorded history. The Church goes further and explains the reason why our souls are immortal. By faith, we know that each and every human soul is created immediately by God. It is not produced by the parents. It does not perish when it is separated from the body at death. It subsists in itself, and it will be reunited with its body at the final Resurrection.

We were created immortal, and have a destiny which lies beyond this world of change and corruption. To think that this world is our home is a tragic error in self-knowledge. We can never feel at home in this world. Dogs and cats are perfectly at home in this world, but we are not. The old Gospel hymn expressed it well: “This world is not our home. We just are passing through. Our treasures are laid up, somewhere beyond the blue.” Those old hymns contain a great deal of wisdom that the present age has almost forgotten. Our Lord tell us, “Store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor corruption destroys, where thieves do not break in or steal” (Matthew 6:20).

The Book of Wisdom points out that the foolish misunderstand death. The foolish think that death is utter destruction. They think that there is no eternal reward for those who believe God and commit themselves to his ways. The book of Wisdom, which was written before Christ came and rose from the dead, argues that the souls of the just are in the hands of God, and that they abide with him forever. This life is full of injustice, but in the life to come, justice will be done. Our Lord confirms this hope and tells us that whoever believes in him will receive mercy and an eternal reward at the final Resurrection. This is the faith by which we are saved. This is the faith which gives us the hope of immortality. Faith confirms what reason suspects about human death, that it is not the end, but only the beginning.

Human death is a fact of our experience, but it ought to have been otherwise. A wise man once said, “Grief is partly constituted by the desire that what we know is true ought not to be so.” When someone close to us dies, we are confronted with the fact that the person can never be replaced. No one can ever be to us what that particular person was to us. No one can ever mean to us what that person means to us. As we go through life, that person will always be missed. We are filled with sorrow, and the sorrow will endure.

But in grief, it is more than sorrow that we feel. The emotion is like no other. Grief is always in a state of rebellion against death. In grief, we have this sense that something has happened that should not be so. Our emotions refuse to accept the event that has taken place. In grief, we cannot be happy with anything, but the undoing of what our loved one has experienced, and the undoing of what we have experienced. We have this sense that it ought not to have happened.

And one of the most important things that we have to decide in life is whether grief is a reliable guide to the truth about life. Does grief tell us how things really are, or is it just an impossible desire, the failure to accept the reality of death? Is it unreasonable to believe that what ought not to be, but unfortunately is, can somehow be undone?

No, it is not unreasonable to believe in the Resurrection of the dead. It is not unreasonable to believe that life is created, that human souls are immortal, and that the dead are in the hands of God. Today we commend the souls of the faithful departed to his mercy, and we ask that they be admitted to the courts of heaven. This is a hope that shall not be disappointed, for Christ will not reject anyone who comes to him in faith. Those who trust in him shall understand truth, and the faithful shall abide with him in love.

Suggestions for Further Reading: Catechism of the Catholic Church §355-384; 954-962; 988-1019



Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome
—November 9, 2014

 

The One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Temple of God

Purpose: We are a people consecrated to God, so we must keep ourselves holy and unified.

Readings: Ezekiel 47:1-2, 8-9, 12; 1 Corinthians 3:9c-11, 16-17; John 2:13-22
http://usccb.org/bible/readings/110914.cfm

In the Hebrew Scriptures (1 Kings 8, 2 Chronicles 7), we read of the feast of the dedication of the original temple of the Lord in Jerusalem, led by King Solomon. This temple, which had to be rebuilt several times, was a symbol of unity for the people of God. Solomon dedicated the temple as a house of prayer, and the glory of the Lord came down from heaven and filled it. Solomon dedicated it as a house of prayer for all people, and he prayed that Gentiles from all over the world would come and worship there in the presence of the one true God together with the people of Israel (1 Kings 8:41-43). The people of God were consumed with zeal for his house, and there they all came to worship in his presence, and to offer him their sacrifices.

In the Gospel reading today, we hear that Jesus, too, was consumed with zeal for the temple of God. Pilgrims, who came to worship at the temple, often needed sacrificial animals, and their Roman coins with pagan images were totally unacceptable in the house of the Lord. So the priests of the temple had transformed the Court of the Gentiles into an area for purchasing sacrificial animals, and for changing Roman coins into Jewish coins. There was nothing inherently wrong with the arrangement, and it helped the pilgrims to give their offerings, and to pay the temple tax. The one thing terribly wrong with the arrangement was that it violated the dedication of the temple area as a place of prayer. The Court of the Gentiles was consecrated as the specific place of prayer for the Gentiles. That area had been dedicated and consecrated to prayer, but it was being used for another purpose.

Our Lord walked in and put a stop to it. He drove out the animals and overturned the money tables. “Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace,” he said. The dedication of the temple was important to him, and he demanded that it be honored. He demanded that the Lord’s temple be kept holy, just as the Lord’s day must be kept holy. It is a constant struggle for the people of God, for we are always tempted to take that which is consecrated to God, and use it for some other purpose. This includes, not only things and places and times, but also ourselves. We, too, are the temple of God, and the Spirit of God dwells in us. We are consecrated to his purposes, and we must keep our bodies holy as temples of God. The Lord’s zeal for the holiness of his house includes his zeal for our holiness, for the holiness of his Church.

Today in the Church’s calendar, we celebrate the Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome. This ancient place of worship in Rome was dedicated and consecrated to the Lord, not by King Solomon, but by Pope Sylvester I, about 300 years after Jesus died and rose from the dead in Jerusalem. During Sylvester’s reign, the Roman Emperor Constantine legalized the Christian religion, and several basilicas were built in Rome. This was the very first church to be built. The Emperor donated the property, and the pope took up residence there. For centuries, the Lateran was the center of the Catholic world, until the popes moved over to the Vatican, and old St. Peter’s, another of Rome’s original basilicas. The Lateran church has been rebuilt several times down through the centuries. On its walls is inscribed its title, “Mother and Head of all the Churches of the City and the World.” It is the mother church of all Christians, and a house of prayer for all people. It is a symbol of the unity of the people of God. To this day, it is the cathedral church of the Bishop of Rome. It is the pope’s cathedral, and his chair is there in its apse. It is the one cathedral that unites all the other cathedrals around the world, where all the other bishops have their chairs.

On this feast of the dedication of our mother church, so many centuries ago, our thoughts and prayers are directed toward the unity of all Christians. The pope is the special minister of that unity. The early Christian martyr, St. Ignatius of Antioch, who was martyred in Rome about 40 years after St. Peter, was someone who was consumed with zeal for the unity of all Christians. He wrote seven letters on the way to his martyrdom, and we have those letters. They are his deathbed testimony to Christian unity. He was the first Christian writer to attribute to the Church the word “catholic” or “universal.” As he put it, “Wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.” And St. Ignatius taught, that in the service of unity to the Catholic Church, the Church of Rome exercises a primacy of love. As he said, “The Church which presides in the place of the region of the Romans, which is worthy of God, worthy of honor, worthy of the highest happiness … and which presides over love, is named from Christ and from the Father. …”

In one of his letters to the faithful, Ignatius explains the principle of unity that he had previously taught them, and that had been taught to him by the Holy Spirit. Here is what he wrote:

Though some would have deceived me according to the flesh, yet the Spirit who is from God is not deceived. For the Spirit knows both whence it comes and whither it goes, and it detects the secrets (of the heart). For when I was among you, I cried out and spoke with a loud voice: “Give heed to the bishop, and to the priests, and to the deacons.” Now some suspected me of having spoken thus because I knew the division being caused by some among you. But He is my witness, for whose sake I am in chains, that I did not receive this information from any man. It was the Spirit who proclaimed these words: “Do nothing without the bishop. Keep your bodies holy as the temples of God. Love unity. Avoid divisions. Be the followers of Jesus Christ, even as he is of his Father.”

Suggestions for Further Reading: Catechism of the Catholic Church §574-594, 811-870; Benedict XVI, Wednesday General Audience, St Peter’s Square, 14 March 2007 (online here)


 

Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time
—November 16, 2014

 

Blessed Are Those Who Fear the Lord

Purpose: A healthy fear of the Lord will lead us to live a sacrificial life for others.

Readings: Proverbs 31:10-13, 19-20, 30-31; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-6; Matthew 25:14-30 or 14-15, 19-21
http://usccb.org/bible/readings/111614.cfm

Our Judeo-Christian tradition teaches us that happiness and friendship and marriage should all be based on a healthy loving fear of the Lord. In the Hebrew Scriptures, the Psalmist expresses it very simply and poetically. “Blessed are those who fear the Lord,” and then he explains what exactly that means: “To fear the Lord is to walk in his ways.” This is the wisdom of the ages. It is the perennial principle of human happiness. It is the basis for true spiritual friendship. And it is the foundation of true success in marriage.

To fear the Lord is to walk in his ways. How blessed are those who fear the Lord! Those who fear the Lord are to be praised! Some kinds of fear are good, and some kinds of fear are bad. Bad fear should be resisted. Good fear should be encouraged. o fear the Lord is to understand that the meaning of life is to love God and to seek his ways. To fear the Lord is to appreciate the unsurpassable value of faith in God and faith in the Son of God. To fear the Lord is to live a sacrificial life for others in imitation of the one who sacrificed himself for us on the Cross.

But this way of life must begin at home. It begins in the context of marriage and family, and the family must always have priority in the spiritual life. We must sacrifice ourselves first of all for those who are closest to us, for those we love the most. The husband sacrifices himself for his wife. The wife sacrifices herself for her husband. As parents, they sacrifice themselves for their children. To fear the Lord is to see the beauty and sacredness of this sacrificial way of life. Our faith enables us to see what the world does not appreciate: the sacredness of marriage, and the beauty of a life that is lived for one’s family.

What exactly does that look like, a life lived for one’s family? In our society we are surrounded with many models of infidelity and unfaithfulness. We are constantly confronted with outright violations of marriage and family, and we see many family relationships breaking down and falling apart. It’s easy to become kind of skeptical about the whole idea. But we know how it’s supposed to work. Down deep in our hearts, we know how it’s supposed to be. And our faith tells us how it’s supposed to be.

In our first reading, the Book of Proverbs speaks of the woman who has true wisdom. How does this woman live her life? How does she spend her time? What does she value? What makes her happy? Does she live for herself, or for her family? Well, let’s see. She obtains wool and flax, and makes cloth with skillful hands. She reaches out her hands to the poor, and extends her arms to the needy. She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs at the days to come. She opens her mouth in wisdom, and on her tongue is kindly counsel. She watches over the conduct of her household, and she does not eat her food in idleness. She is resourceful and productive. Her children rise up and praise her, and her husband extols her. The woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Give her a reward for her labors, and let her works praise her at the city gates.

Of course, the Scriptures affirm the very same truths about husbands. The man of wisdom is the one who works hard for his family, and is faithful to his wife. The man of wisdom is the one who avoids worldly allurements, and controls his unruly impulses. The man of wisdom is the one who fears the Lord, and spends his free time going to church and studying the law of the Lord. The man of wisdom is the one who accepts hardships, stays humble, mourns over his own sins and the sins of others, hungers for righteousness, shows mercy to those who have wronged him, keeps his mind and heart clean, and works to bring his family and friends closer to God. This is the wisdom of the ages, the wisdom that our society has lost, and thinks it doesn’t need.

The foundation of our society is marriage and the family. And the foundation of marriage and the family is a healthy fear of the Lord. The fear of the Lord is the key to wisdom, the key to a successful and productive life, and the key to happiness in this life, and the next. If we truly believe this, then we actively and constantly restructure our lives so that they revolve around walking in the ways of the Lord. And very soon, we discover that it is not going to be easy. We may find that we are insulted and persecuted, and marginalized and excluded, because we have committed ourselves to a Christian set of values and a Christian way of life.

Is our Lord demanding? Yes, because he is Truth and Goodness, and Truth and Goodness are demanding. We have to stay awake and alert. We have to work hard and stay sober. We have to be good and faithful servants. We have to use the gifts and talents the Lord has given us. The more we use the gifts and talents he has given us, the more gifts and talents he gives us. They are given to us for others. All he asks is that we remain faithful in small matters. All he asks is that we follow his ways in the details of our lives. All we have to do is lead a quiet life and do the work he has given us to do. All we have to do is put ourselves at the service of our families and friends with the resources he has given us. His demands are reasonable. In the face of such demands, the wrong kind of fear will lead us to protect ourselves, abandon our duties, and live for ourselves. But the right kind of fear will lead us to abandon ourselves, accept our duties, and live for others.

Suggestions for Further Reading: Catechism of the Catholic Church §1830-1832; 2197-2257


 

The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe
—November 23, 2014

 

Thy Kingdom Come, on Earth as It Is in Heaven

Purpose: Freedom is the purpose of Christ’s Kingdom, and its freedom must be defended.

Readings: Ezekiel 34:11-12, 15-17; 1 Corinthians 15:20-26, 28; Matthew 25:31-46
http://usccb.org/bible/readings/112314.cfm

The Solemnity that we celebrate today, the Solemnity of Christ the King, was instituted by Pope Pius XI in 1925, to be observed on a Sunday at the end of each liturgical year. So here we are, at the end of our liturgical year. Next Sunday is already the beginning of Advent, a new liturgical year. If you believe that the liturgical calendar trumps the secular calendar, and you really like New Year’s Eve parties, then you should throw one this weekend, right after Thanksgiving.

In 1925, Pius XI instructed his fellow bishops to see to it that sermons were preached to the people in every parish at the end of each liturgical year, specifically to proclaim the meaning, and the importance, of the Kingship of Christ. We are to consider how to order our lives, so as to be faithful and obedient subjects of Christ in his Kingdom here on earth. Back in 1925, Pius XI was struggling with the political agendas and maneuvers of Mussolini and similar regimes around the world. Pius XI had two major political headaches during his pontificate: Communism and Fascism.

You might have seen the film, For Greater Glory, about the Cristero War in Mexico. The Mexican Revolution had taken place from 1910 to 1920. Pius XI issued an encyclical, Quas Primas, in 1925, and instituted the Solemnity of Christ the King. It had a social and political meaning for the faithful, suffering oppression under many regimes. In Mexico, inspired by this encyclical and the new Solemnity, the Cristeros in 1926 began to defend religious freedom for Christ the King. Their battle cry was “¡Viva Cristo Rey!” “Long live Christ the King!”

In Italy, as you know, Mussolini was one of the founders of Modern Fascism. His mother was a faithful Catholic, but he had lost his faith at a young age, and became an atheist. Like Hitler and many others, he became an admirer of the German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche. On his 60th birthday, Mussolini received a special gift from Hitler of the complete 24-volume set of the works of Nietzsche. Of course, Mussolini and Hitler may have misinterpreted the philosophy of Nietzsche, or simply used it for their own political ends, their own will to power. But like Nietzsche, they abandoned, and then attacked, the Christian faith. Mussolini became an absolute dictator, and attempted to convince Catholics to support Fascism. At first, the Church attempted to cooperate with Mussolini, but soon he became very anticlerical, and insisted that the State had authority over the Church. Pius XI did his best to oppose both Communism and Fascism, and to defend the freedom of individuals, families, and religion.

The relation between Church and State has always been a major issue, from the very beginning of Christianity. Does the Church claim to have authority over the State? Is Christ a political rebel? Does he want to overthrow the government? Is he a threat to secular power? Does Christ want to be the king—or the dictator—in a political regime? Certainly, that is what Pilate wanted to know. Pilate wanted to know the intentions of Christ: “This Jesus and his disciples, certainly they have a moral agenda. So don’t they also have a political agenda? Aren’t they trying to impose their morals on everyone else through the use of political power?” Pilate ordered that the title, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews,” be written on a plaque in three languages and placed on the cross above Jesus’ head: abbreviated as INRI in Latin. The use of the title indicates that Pilate wanted him to be regarded as the leader of a rebellion against the authority of Rome.

But the Kingdom of Christ is not of this world. Certainly it is in the world, and the Church is that Kingdom, at least in embryonic form. We become citizens of that Kingdom of Christ by faith, repentance, and baptism. Baptism both signifies and produces an interior regeneration. Christ becomes the King of our souls, and establishes his reign in our hearts. He frees us from sin and from our self-centered thoughts and desires. The Kingdom has come and is coming. It is in the process of coming and being actualized. Thus, we pray, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” The Kingdom is the everlasting reign of Christ over the whole universe. He created it. He is its King. And he must be the King of our hearts.

Part of his creation rebels against his rule, and refuses to do his will. The rebellion includes mankind, which is why he became visible and asked us to accept his reign. Since Christ was born and came into this world, his Kingdom is now in this world. Christ came and asserted his right to rule the temporal order. He has that right. And the State must protect the freedom of his Church. But he does not seek to establish his reign by force or by fighting. His Kingdom is in this world, but it does not belong to this world. Our King allows us to defend ourselves against an unjust aggressor and to participate in a just war if necessary, but his Kingdom does not come through violence or coercion. His Kingdom must come freely and voluntarily. It comes only through faith, repentance, baptism, and works of mercy and charity. Christ seeks to enlighten everyone and inspire them to believe his word and to do these works. He came to testify to the truth, and the truth is that he is our King and Creator. Those who love truth listen to his voice. He speaks to us through his Church. His Kingdom will come at the end of time, and he will then separate the just from the unjust. But His Kingdom is also present in mystery here and now in the Church, in the Eucharist, and in the hearts of those who listen to him. May his Kingdom come, and may his will be done, on earth as it is in heaven!

Suggestions for Further Reading: Pius XI, Quas Primas, Encyclical, 11 December 1925 (online here)


 

First Sunday of Advent
—November 30, 2014

 

The Mystagogy of Advent

Purpose: We must now renew our efforts to prepare our hearts for the Advent of the Lord.

Readings: Isaiah 63:16b-17, 19b; 64:2-7; 1 Corinthians 1:3-9; Mark 13:33-37
http://usccb.org/bible/readings/113014.cfm

Happy New Year! Today we liturgically begin the cycle all over again. It’s the First Sunday of Advent, the beginning of the new liturgical year. And every year that we go through the cycle again, we are growing spiritually, and understanding the meaning of each season more clearly. At least, that is our hope, and it is the hope of the Church, as she mothers us in the spiritual life. This year, we should aspire to enter into the meaning of Advent, as we never have before. This Christmas, we should aspire to encounter the Infant Jesus in our lives, as we never have before. If we are growing in holiness, then our understanding and experience of Advent and Christmas will be deeper and more profound, than it has ever been for us before.

The readings set the tone and indicate the program as we enter the new season. Advent is about preparing ourselves for the coming of the Lord. “I am coming soon,” the Lord tells us, “but you do not know the hour. So be watchful and alert! Be prepared! If I come, and you are sleeping, then you are going to miss out! If I catch you slacking off and not doing the work that I gave you, then you are going to lose your reward! Be ready for my return! It might be very sudden! It might take you by surprise!”

Advent is a time of waiting and a time of preparation. The day of the Lord is at hand. He will appear to us once again. The manger is now empty. But keep your eyes on it, for the divine child will be placed in it once again. And there’s going to be a new Epiphany. We are waiting for it. In the meantime, we must get ready! We must repent and purify ourselves! We must clean up and get ready, for the King is coming! He will bring gifts to those who wait for him. He will breathe new life into us. He will free us from our miseries. He will give us more than we could have hoped for, but only if we are diligent, watchful, and ready.

“Ready for what?” some will say. “He’s been gone for almost 2000 years. What are you talking about? What are you expecting to happen? Just go buy all your presents, plan your parties, and forget it. When Christmas comes and goes, it will leave us just as empty, broke, and depressed as ever. Bah humbug!” We are all too familiar with that response to Advent and Christmas. But to those who expect nothing, nothing is given. Expecting nothing to happen might seem like a safe path, for if we don’t hope for anything, then we cannot be disappointed. And is there really anything for us to hope for? What exactly are we supposed to be watching for? Should we be watching for the final Advent of the Lord? Should we expect the Second Coming of Christ this Christmas? Will he come again in glory? Will all things be made new? Will the New Jerusalem come down from heaven? Yes, someday, but maybe not this year.

It is certainly true that the world, as we know it, is passing away, but it seems unlikely that the end will come anytime soon. Of course, we never know, but there is another possibility that we may be overlooking, another kind of Advent that we should always be watching for, praying for, and hoping for. Perhaps no one has ever told you about this other Advent, but the saints and doctors of the Church talk about it all the time. St. Bernard of Clairvaux, for example, tells us that

… there are three Advents of the Lord. The third lies between the other two. It is invisible, while the other two are visible. In the First Advent, he was seen on earth, dwelling among men. He himself testifies that they saw him and hated him. In the Final Advent, all flesh will see the salvation of our God, and they will look on him whom they pierced. The Middle Advent, however, is a hidden one. In it, only, the elect see the Lord within their own selves, and they are saved. In his First Advent, our Lord came in our flesh and in our weakness. In the Middle Advent, he comes in spirit and in power. In the Final Advent, he will be seen in glory and majesty.

Because the Middle Advent lies between the other two, it is like a road on which we travel from the First Advent to the Last. In the First, Christ was our redemption. In the Last, he will appear as our life. In this Middle Advent, he is our rest and consolation.

This is the Advent we should be hoping for, watching for, praying for, and preparing ourselves for. It can come at any time, so we must be diligent, and stay awake. If we don’t expect it, we shall never receive it. But now is the time to seek it. It is just as real as the Lord’s First Advent and his Last. The saints assure us of this. St. Bernard, for example, tells us that if someone should think that what we say about this Middle Advent is sheer invention, he should listen to what our Lord himself says about it: “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them is the one who loves me. And whoever loves me will be loved by my Father. I too will love him and reveal myself to him.” “The Father and I will come to him and make our dwelling with him.”

That is the promise of the Lord. It is an Epiphany that is offered to all who have the wisdom to seek it. But it takes sustained effort and fervent prayer. It is not a cheap grace. Many of the saints sought it for years before they received it. St. Bernard urges us to be diligent but hopeful:

If you keep the word of God in this way, it will also keep you. The Son with the Father will come to you. The great Prophet who will build the New Jerusalem will come to you, the one who makes all things new. This Middle Advent will then fulfill in you what is written: “As we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, we shall also bear the likeness of the heavenly man.”

Suggestions for Further Reading: Catechism of the Catholic Church §1163-1173; St. Bernard of Clairvaux, Sermo 5, in Adventu Domini, 1-3: Opera omnia, Edit. cisterc. 4 (1966), 188-190

Deacon Tracy Jamison, OCDS About Deacon Tracy Jamison, OCDS

Deacon Jamison is an assistant professor of philosophy at the Athenaeum of Ohio and Mount St. Mary's Seminary of the West. He is also a married, permanent deacon assigned to Holy Cross - Immaculata Catholic Church in Cincinnati.

Comments

  1. Avatar D.Ruel Foster says:

    Deacon Jamison enriches the end of our liturgical year with his insightful and gracefull homilies.

    Thank you Deacon Jamison.

    • Avatar RICHARD E. DUMONT, PH.D., OCDS says:

      THESE HOMILIES BRING FORWARD THE RICH DIALOGUE BETWEEN THE OLD AND NEW TESTAMENTS. THEIR AUTHOR, DEACON JAMISON, SHOULD CONTINUE THEM, NOT ONLY TO KEEP A FILE OF THEM IN HIS PORTFOLIO BUT ALSO TO CONTINUE TO CULTIVATE FURTHER HIS PENETRATION INTO THE WEALTH OF THE CHURCH’S UNFATHOMABLE WISDOM.

      PRAYERFULLY IN CARMEL, R.E.DUMONT, OCDS, PH.D.

  2. The homily for hope after death is very near to my heart, and gives me hope that that day will come when I will be reunited with my deceased daughter in God’s own way and time. I grieve no longer, but rather I cling to that thought of hope. I know she is waiting for me to be with her, as she told me so in a dream/vision/appearance of herself in a dingy gray gown. She said that it’s not very nice where she is now, but it will be when I get there. Oh what glory is awaiting us to be together, and see the face of God together. Thank you, Tracy.