Homilies for November 2020

For All Saints’ Day, All Souls’ Day, November 8, November 15, November 22 (Christ the King), November 29 (First Sunday of Advent)

All Saints’ Day – November 1, 2020

Readings: Rv 7:2–4, 9–14 Ps 24:1BC–2, 3–4AB, 5–6 1 Jn 3:1–3 Mt 5:1–12A bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/110120.cfm

While today’s feast is not detected around the Church universal until Pope Gregory III (d. 741), many Church Fathers are recorded saying a Mass in honor of all the Church’s saints — Ephrem the Syrian celebrated an All Saints Mass and we know that John Chrysostom held this solemnity on the first Sunday after Pentecost, stressing how the Spirit gathers us all — on earth and in heaven — into one body of praise. And that is precisely where a homily should focus today: both on the unity of the Church which traverses heaven and earth, as well as on the exhortation of any sermon on calling our congregants to sainthood themselves. We have all we need in the sacraments of Mother Church and in the intercession of our heavenly brothers and sisters. We simply need surrender to the Lord and come to a definitive desire for his holiness: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us” (Heb 12:1).

That is why the readings for Mass today convey two main points: the first is that the liturgy which we pray on earth is a foreshadowing of the eternal liturgy in heaven. The second is the call toward the ancient theology of deification. The beloved Apostle John is exiled on to the Island of Patmos and here he must have celebrated some early form of the divine liturgy. It may have been during these times of celebration that he was mentally transported into the heavenly ecclesia, given glimpses of “a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people and tongue” (Rev 7:9). Is this not Catholic, universal, is this not what we shall be doing forever — living in perfect harmony with all the saints, taking up our eternal place in that incessant praise of Father, Son and Spirit? That is why liturgy celebrated well here matters: it is a foretaste of how we shall spend eternity. The white robes, the palm branches, the singing, the bodily gesture of prostration, and the gathering around the central figure of the Lamb are all things we do even now at Mass. Therefore, we who have been entrusted with executing the holy sacrifice of the Mass must do so with care and fidelity, but also with joy and our own unique humanity which preaches more eloquently than any well-crafted homily. Let us model Christ’s priesthood both at the altar as well as in town, living lives of integrity and mercy, knowing our own need for grace and what an awesome life of shepherding God’s own people we enjoy.

As holy as Mass is, however, it is not an end in itself. Even the very name implies a next step, a mission still unfulfilled. So we are “sent” into the world to be Christ’s vicars, all the baptized, instantiating the God-made-flesh in how we speak and act. That is why the second reading for today’s Solemnity instructs us that we are called to be children of God by allowing ourselves to be adopted into his family, this Church. Here we call God “Father,” here we invoke our Mother in the order of grace, Mary Most Beautiful. This is a process which may be perfected only in heaven but it is one that began silently at our baptism and when this process is fully and finally revealed, “we shall be like God, for we shall see him as he is” (1 Jn 3:2). This is an opportune time to teach on the Church’s understanding of divinization:

Catechism of the Catholic Church §460: The Word became flesh to make us “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pet 1:4): “For this is why the Word became man, and the Son of God became the Son of man: so that man, by entering into communion with the Word and thus receiving divine [adoption], might become a son or daughter of God” (St. Irenaeus). “For the Son of God became man so that we might become God” (St. Athanasius). “The only-begotten Son of God, wanting to make us sharers in his divinity, assumed our nature, so that he, made man, might make men gods” (St. Thomas Aquinas).

To put this central teaching more succinctly, as John suggests, we become like those with whom we spend time. We take on the attributes and the mannerisms of those upon whom we gaze, interact with, laugh with and love.

That is why we shall become like God even now, spending time before him in his inerrant word, before the Blessed Sacrament in Eucharistic Adoration, receiving him in every act of holy communion, and being with him in his holy people, our neighbors. When that happens, we begin to live no longer on a merely human level but are elevated to partake of God’s own nature, as 2 Peter 1:4 so classically states it. No wonder then the Gospel for today is the Sermon on the Mount. No human can live out this set of teachings; only those who live in and “as” Christ can fulfill such a superhuman set of instructions. See meekness as a sign of strength? Consider my self blessed when I hunger and mourn? Pray for my persecutors? Not me — but Jesus can and I need only allow him to live my life. The Incarnation is not over: Christ is still uniting himself to each member of his Mystical Body and I am becoming more and more my truest self as I continue to open my heart and mind up to Jesus in an ever-growing union.

Today’s sermon should therefore stretch us: stretch us into heaven by teaching us what we too are to become, and bringing each of us deeply back into our own hearts, inviting a sort of awareness examen wherein we are asked to see the Father at work in his sons and daughters on earth. Where are the places you feel responsible and faithful in allowing this divine life into you? Where do you know you still prefer the Lord’s life on your own selfish terms? This is what it means to celebrate the Solemnity of All Saints — not to become plaster statues, but to become living and even stumbling mirrors of a Christ who longs to bring a great cloud of witness of himself into himself.

Suggested Reading: Called to be the Children of God, ed., Fr. Meconi and Carl Olson (Ignatius Press, 2016)

All Souls’ Day – November 2, 2020

Let’s be honest. Do we really know where our loved ones are who have left this world? We know they are gone, but do we realize where? We may have solid intuitions and we may trust in the teaching of Christ that all who remain in him will be saved, but that same Christ gave his Church on earth today’s Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed liturgy to remind us to pray for our dead in the consoling knowledge that Jesus is a merciful judge. If yesterday we celebrated the saints who are in heaven in re (in reality), today we pray for those saints who are in heaven in spe (in hope). In this way the Church situates us sojourners in the very real tension between knowing that Christ the Lord who has defeated death and longs to “bring with him those who have fallen asleep” (1 Thess 4:14) and the belief that our loved ones are with the Lord but until we see them, we continue to pray in hope with the confidence that, “the souls of the just are in the hand of God, and no torment shall touch them” (Wis 3:1).

Here the Church is far from pollyannish, far from encouraging eulogies who celebrate the eternal rewards to which someone had a right; but neither is the Church ever in despair, fretting the loss of eternal life of one of her children. In both possible options for the second reading, the Apostle reminds us today that this is so because Christian hope “does not disappoint.” And why is such hope so consoling, so constructive? Because “the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (Rom 5:5). Here Paul turns our attention to the bedrock teaching that love overcomes all things, even death. In the second option, Rom 6:3-9, Paul asks if we understand that if we have “grown into unity with [Christ] through a death like his” (Rom 6:3), “we shall also be united with him in the resurrection.” In a fallen world, there can be no life without dying, no victory without surrender, no greatness without service. This is the tension of living in the “already not yet” of Christ’s defeat of death — we know the battle has been won but we still need to lay down our arms and, by extension, continue to pray for those soldiers who left this world still just a little bit hesitant, half-hearted, or even outright AWOL.

This is why Preface I for the Dead, able to be used today, recasts this tension into the phenomena of certainly and promise: “In him the hope of blessed resurrection has dawned, that those saddened by the certainty of dying might be consoled by the promise of immortality to come.” That we are immortal, we know. That Jesus has opened the gates of heaven for us through his passion, dying and resurrection, we know. But exactly how that is going to affect us, we do not yet know. What we can be assured of, however, whatever awaits and all mortals upon death is the love of Christ. And on this day we might preach on the doctrine of purgatory, so misunderstood — or dismissed — today.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI taught us, in his second encyclical, that whereas sacred tradition has portrayed purgatory in terms of a purifying fire,

. . . the fire which both burns and saves is Christ himself, the Judge and Savior. The encounter with him is the decisive act of judgment. Before his gaze all falsehood melts away. This encounter with him, as it burns us, transforms and frees us, allowing us to become truly ourselves. All that we build during our lives can prove to be mere straw, pure bluster, and it collapses. Yet in the pain of this encounter, when the impurity and sickness of our lives become evident to us, there lies salvation. His gaze, the touch of his heart heals us through an undeniably painful transformation “as through fire.” But it is a blessed pain, in which the holy power of his love sears through us like a flame, enabling us to become totally ourselves and thus totally of God (Spe Salui §47).

The fire which will burn away all impurity is to be welcomed, as the alternative would be an unacceptable condemnation of having to spend eternity as we are right now. It is a “blessed pain,” as Benedict wrote, to know that we are going to be transformed into saints beautiful and blessed. So, for today, we pray for those who have left us, that the fires of purgatory and the judgment of Jesus Christ is to them sweet and blessed.

While Masses for the dead have been celebrated for the dead since Christianity began, it was mainly through the tireless work of Odilo of Cluny who used his influence to universalize this feast, seeing it in all the Benedictine monasteries in Europe by 998. Before the changes of 1969, the Dies Irae was to be chanted at every All Souls’ Mass, 3 of which could be said on that day thanks to the earlier permission of Pope Benedict XV in 1915. Today there is a bit less pomp and certainly a smaller amount of pomp this day, but the theology and the prayer is the same: “that your departed servants, for whom we have celebrated this paschal Sacrament, may pass over to a dwelling place of light and peace. Through Christ our Lord” (Prayer After Communion). Amen.

Suggestions for Further Reading: Catechism of the Catholic Church §1051-60.

32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time – November 8, 2020

Readings: Wis 6:12–16 • Ps 63:2, 3–4, 5–6, 7–8 • 1 Thes 4:13-18 or 4:13–14 • Mt 25:1–13 bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/110820.cfm

Jewish weddings like the one supposed here in Matthew 25 would have most likely been celebrated at the house of the groom’s family, and these women would have belonged to the groom’s “side” during the nuptials. Between the marriage rite and the initial throes of celebration, however, there was some business that had to occur, very probably the haggling over the dowry and further alliances between families now joined together in marriage. During this intermezzo, these members of the wedding party — who have no doubt been up all day — begin to get tired of waiting and begin to succumb to drowsiness. After some time, and not a minute too soon, all ten hear the cry of the ancient equivalent of the best man, “Behold, the Bridegroom, come out to meet him!” At this decisive moment, the care and all the women’s preparations are finally exposed, revealing how five were wise and five failed to bring enough midnight oil along.

Wisdom is obviously preparedness. It is a certain foresightedness which allows us who are on the way to the Bridegroom to overcome temptation and defeat any obstacle which would keep us from coming to him fully. Wisdom here is not staying awake, for even the wise understandably grow weary; instead, wisdom is knowing how to act and what to do when we are asked to be alert and vigilant. As the French poet Charles Péguy (d. 1914) once wrote, the man who does not sleep does not trust God: “I don’t like the man who does not sleep . . . Sleep may be my most beautiful creation . . . for sleep accomplishes what reason cannot, the surrender of man.” Sleep is a sign of trust that the Lord will take care of the deepest desires and most frenzied activities of my life and that I can rest in him and when he calls me, he will arouse me and prepare my mind and hands for that day’s labors. That is wisdom, a trust which results in the availability to go and do whatever the Lord asks of me.

What then is foolishness? Did the foolish not notice that five women alongside them were packing more oil than they? Did they fail to take note that some of the women seemed more prepared than they? Maybe this is the first sign of such foolishness—not noticing others around us. Maybe the foolish proved so flippant, overly-celebratory, or disdainful of others who seemed to have more, that they were too superficial to let that matter and just went about their business with no concern for what might be facing them down the road. Or maybe what it means to be foolish in God’s eyes is to demand from the wise and prudent what we have neglected in our sloppiness and sloth.

Maybe what makes us foolish before a merciful lover is our unwillingness to admit a fault or confess some sin. Were the foolish women too scared of their Master to wait humbly and simply admit to him when he neared that they had packed inappropriately? Perhaps that is the height of stupidity: to think our transgressions are greater than God’s mercy. What would have happened if the foolish virgins would have waited for the Lord to arrive instead of abandoning his party and perhaps suggesting that their sense of orderliness must take precedence over his gracious invitation. Here we might preach on the beauty and the fittingness of the Penitential Rite at Mass’ every beginning — “Lord, we have not prepared well enough to meet you but you invite us to this Feast all the more!”

These vivid details involved in this contrast between the foolish and wise has elicited an obvious question over the centuries: Why are those who are held up for our emulation unwilling to share their oil? They are wise, to be sure, but are they generous? The great bishop of Constantinople, John Chrysostom (d. 407), once preached that “Although nothing could be more merciful than those wise virgins, who for this very mercifulness were approved, yet would they not grant the prayer of the foolish virgins. We are thus to learn that none of us shall be able in that day to stand forth as patron of those who are betrayed by their own works, not because he will not, but because he cannot.” In other words, if the wise virgins would have shared their oil with those who are in the end betrayers, it would have been just like pouring their oil through a merciless sieve. A few years later St. Jerome (d. 420) would similarly write, “For these wise virgins do not answer thus out of covetousness, but out of fear. Wherefore, each man shall receive the recompense of his own works, and the virtues of one cannot atone for the vices of another in the day of judgment.” In short, if another meets the Bridegroom in a state of great vice, the charity of his or her companion will prove futile. This is not to say that we should not pray and offer Masses for those who meet the Lord (that is what All Souls earlier this month was all about), but we should also be aware that if that person goes to the Lord so empty-handed and desiccated that there can be no chance of even the tiniest flicker of a flame of love, our prayers will do no good.

But Paul today reminds us that our hope will bear fruit and that we must continually pray for the grace to persevere in that state of anticipated union and fulfillment. This trust is a sign of the kind of wisdom that orders reality rightly. The wise know that God’s ability to rule and to rectify is stronger than our own imperfections. His mercy will always swallow whole our insecurities and doubts. Let us encourage our congregants today to understand the importance of wisdom and then to beg the Lord in wisely ordering their loves and their affairs,

Suggestions for Further Listening: There are some glorious renditions of this story in hymnody. One could go to YouTube and search for “Behold the Bridegroom Cometh” by George Frederick Root, or “Bridegroom Troparion” to hear how the Orthodox pronounce this drama.

33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time – November 15, 2020

Readings: Prv 31:10–13, 19–20, 30–31 Ps 128:1–2, 3, 4–5 • 1 Thes 5:1–6 Mt 25:14–30 bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/111520.cfm

Building off last week’s Gospel, this week again tells us to be ready for the return of the Master. Today, however, this exhortation is put in terms of our own individual talents, those many gifts which our Creator has entrusted personally and uniquely to each of us. These talents can represent so many gifts in each of our lives. Every Sunday our Church is filled with amazing people whose lives are as blessed as they are busy. What if we encouraged them to take inventory of the gifts they enjoy from God and to treat them as solicitously and invest them as lavishly as the faithful steward?

Why does the Church give us “When one finds a worthy wife, her value is far beyond pearls” (Prov 31:10) as the readings’ opening line today? This paean to the model woman is a great place for most of our parishioners to begin counting their blessings and talents. As the recent Supreme Court Nomination hearings put front and center of the American people, a strong woman is a threat to the status quo. The abortion mills, the pornography industry, not to mention less diabolical marketplaces like fashion and beauty promotions, all seek to exploit the feminine and that is why the good man “clings” to his wife (Gen 2:24), signaling how she is the pillar and the center of a Culture of Life. She is powerful and tender, wise and playful, careful with what is important in life, insightful and other-centered.

The second reading continues this honoring of womanhood, likening the Lord’s return at the end of this liturgical year to a woman’s birth pains. The Mother Paul has in mind here is the Church who rebirths us in her waters of baptism, thereby making us “children of the light and children of the day” (1 Thess 5:5). Here we are born, washed, instructed and fed. The Church for us Catholics is not just a building or a religion, it is the mystical extension of Christ’s own divine humanity. Despite her human stumblings, the Church is divine in her origin, sustenance, and destination. We must be convinced of this as all the great saints are:

Christ and his Church thus together make up the “whole Christ” (Christus totus). The Church is one with Christ. The saints are acutely aware of this unity: “Let us rejoice then and give thanks that we have become not only Christians, but Christ himself. Do you understand and grasp, brethren, God’s grace toward us? Marvel and rejoice: we have become Christ. For if he is the head, we are the members; he and we together are the whole man. . . . The fullness of Christ then is the head and the members. But what does ‘head and members’ mean? Christ and the Church” (St. Augustine). Our redeemer has shown himself to be one person with the holy Church whom he has taken to himself (Pope St. Gregory the Great). Head and members form as it were one and the same mystical person (St. Thomas Aquinas). A reply of St. Joan of Arc to her judges sums up the faith of the holy doctors and the good sense of the believer: “About Jesus Christ and the Church, I simply know they’re just one thing, and we shouldn’t complicate the matter” (Acts of St. Joan’s Trial).

If we can convince (ourselves and) our parishioners that this Church, despite all the scandals and sin, really is the perfect bride foreshadowed in Proverbs and outlined in Paul, we can empower them to know their salvation is safe with the great Bridegroom.

When we commit ourselves to such confidence in his care and charity, we will find a new level of interior freedom. The problem with the bad steward is not his financial ineptitude but his unwillingness to risk his security for the Lord. There is no safe middle in the Lord: at every moment we are either moving toward or further from the Lord. With every thought and word and deed we are either investing in the wild and prodigal life of the Lord or are investing in our own expectations, categories and self-preservation. What a contrast, what a loss to lose on such a wager!

Why doesn’t the malformed servant invest what he has been given? Is he ashamed to admit that he is not (yet?) as great as some of the more successful? Is he unsure what to do, lamenting how Christ rarely gives us a blueprint for every move of our lives but asks us to live more in the Spirit at every moment? Perhaps he is simply so set on his own agenda that he is unwilling to serve another truly? Whatever the reason, we might focus on the fact that the Lord trusts us with what he has given us — our lives, our families and friends, our careers and all the myriad gifts that make up a human life. There is nothing that we cannot invest into the Kingdom of we are willing to place whatever talent we might have into he hands of the great King. This is the sweet and freeing paradox of the Cross: the Master wants not only the good and the beautiful but in his pierced hands he can weave even the most desperate and disparaging into something beautiful. Perhaps the only talent some of our congregants can offer him is their sickness, their addictions, their divorce, their passing.

This is how we preachers can weave the three readings together: a lovely wife, the passing of seasons and our incorporation into Mother Church, and the call to invest who we are in Christ without reservation or fear — anything we offer to him freely he can consecrate, enrich and enlarge. This is a humble God, a servant King, who is willing to take whatever we can give him. No talent, no moment, no experience is too insignificant. And perhaps we can conclude today’s preaching by reminding those present that the offertory is a symbolic gathering of all these talents, ceremoniously presented before the Lord on the altar of sacrifice. There is a rich theology of “gift” running through today’s readings, through every liturgy, and we could conclude by reminding those with ears that the true and only eternal offering is not anything they own, but everything they are.

Suggestions for Further Reading: An intriguing article on the theology of all the movements of the offertory: http://www.newliturgicalmovement.org/2014/05/the-theology-of-offertory-part-5-what.html#.X4r5ENBKg2w

Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe – November 22, 2020

Readings: Ez 34:11–12, 15–17 Ps 23:1–2, 2–3, 5–6 1 Cor 15:20–26, 28 Mt 25:31–46 bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/112220.cfm

To counter the ever-increasing nationalism Pope Pius XI sensed in Europe, he instituted the Feast of Christ the King in 1925. This Solemnity was meant to teach the entire world that there was ultimately only one ruler, only one sovereign — the God-man, Jesus Christ. In the encyclical which inaugurated this feast, Pius XI tells us that he chose this year to proclaim Christ’s kingship because it is the sixteenth centenary of the Council of Nicaea, where Jesus was definitively proclaimed “consubstantial” with the Father and is, thus, worthy of our absolute devotion.

. . . by reason of the keenness of his intellect, and the extent of his knowledge, and also because he is very truth, and it is from him that truth must be obediently received by all mankind. He reigns, too, in the wills of men, for in him, the human will was perfectly and entirely obedient to the Holy Will of God, and further by his grace and inspiration, he so subjects our free-will as to incite us to the most noble endeavors (Quas Primas §7).

In 1969, Pope Paul VI changed both the name and the date of the feast, but the meaning remains the same: Today is a day to hail the true King of all! Yet this was not a realm obvious from the beginning. From Eden to Calvary, God slowly disclosed the nature of his realm, and the purpose of his rule.

For this reason the Church gives us today’s readings to show us the progression of God’s Kingdom. In the Old Testament prophets, like Ezekiel, we hear of the Kingdom being one of a wise and loving shepherd tending his flock into verdant pastures, ensuring that the isolated reconvene rescued “from every place where they were scattered when it was dark and cloudy” (Ez 34:12). As such, the original vision of God’s Kingdom was still very much one of natural kinship and provincial protection.

In Christ, this understanding is amplified universally to include every man, woman, and child. Whereas the kingdoms of old were terrestrial, and determined by bloodlines, Christ’s Kingdom is one of love. This love of the New King is now manifested as his adopting many brothers and sisters into his Father’s patrimony — making otherwise unworthy servants into his own brothers and sisters. This is the beauty of adoption: all depends on those who adopt, and not those who are adopted. We have been made members of Christ’s Kingdom, not out of anything we have done, but out of his immeasurable love for each of us. The power and glory are all his; the Good News is that he has chosen to share it with us.

Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians today is a message of recapitulation: just as one man, Adam, was responsible for introducing sin and chaos and death into Yahweh’s good creation, another man — the New Adam, Jesus Christ — regathers the victims of this division and decay into his holy Church through his holy Cross. On Calvary, Christ reconciles all things: now, through his death is found life, in his mortality is found eternity, in his humble service is found greatness, in his humanity is found divinity. Christ is the great promise to us: even though we may now know mockery, derision and even, perhaps, forms of martyrdom, in that darkness and in those deaths, we shall come to know God’s reconciliation and redemption more powerfully and personally.

Accordingly, the Gospel today reminds us that the Kingdom of Jesus is not one simply of command and might but, first, one of weakness and vulnerability. It is a crown of thorns before it is a crown of gold. Such a new sense of rule ushers in a new way of meeting God, through our neighbor. This should not surprise us with Advent just a week away, for the moment God becomes human, there is now no way back to God except through the human. That is why however we treat those around us, we treat the one who not only created us, but personally indwells within us as well. Here love of God and love of neighbor meet, reminding us that we cannot love another if we refuse to love those whom he or she loves.

This, then, is a true king. He is not a micro-manager, and he is willing to share whatever he can — his work, his mission, his very body and blood — with his members. In fact, Matthew 25 reminds us that he is even humble enough to situate his life with those who hunger and go without. This is how Christ undergoes a second kenosis, a continual outpouring of his divinity into those places the world deems insignificant or too much bother. Here in our neighbor the God of all Might strips himself of glory so that the inglorious might come to him without fear. How we treat our neighbors is how we shall be treated eternally and so let us end today’s homily reminding Christ’s Church that we shall be with Christ the King forever, and in our prayerful reception of Christ’s sacraments and in our Christian service of our neighbor, forever begins today!

Suggestions for Further Reading: Catechism of the Catholic Church §440, 2616.

1st Sunday of Advent (Year B) – November 29, 2020

Readings: Is 63:16B–17, 19B; 64:2–7 Ps 80:2–3, 15–16, 18–19 1 Cor 1:3–9 Mk 13:33–37 bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/112920.cfm

This is our New Year’s Eve and Day, as the beginning of Advent is always a new welcome and a profound parting. Begin by asking who in our pews will miss 2020? COVID, quarantines, masks, distancing, cancellation of comforts and even basic normalcy, the elections and all the mudslinging that went along there, seeing Judge Amy Coney Barrett be lambasted for the richness with which she lives her Catholic faith without qualification, and the list can be lengthened by each of us, for sure. Goodbye 2020!

The readings for this new Liturgical Year B will bring us into dialogue with the Gospel of Mark, the first, shortest, and fastest-moving gospel of the four. Today’s readings from Isaiah, First Corinthians and Mark could all converge on the importance of how we who are endowed with the gift of free-will choose to spend our energies in these short decades we have on earth. We are told to stay awake because this life does matter and since we have only so much time and so much earthly life, Advent is a good time to take note of how we are filling our days and our desires.

The Prophet Isaiah therefore wonders why God allows us to wander. The answer to which the Catholic Tradition is committed is the very nature of God himself. He cannot create forced lovers, contradictory as the proverbial square circle. My students always push back, “God can do any-thing.” “That’s right,” I say, “but a square circle or a compelled charity is not a thing, it is a no-thing.” As attractive as it is to us who are fascinated with power, God refuses to substitute a free will, however rebellious, with his own. It is amazing to think, but the Father prefers the integrity of his creation, respecting the natures of things, over the death of his own Son. It is Satan who overrides the wills of human persons; God always woos and invites but never possesses another, even if his or her salvation is at stake.

Perhaps this is why St. Paul buttresses our Advent faith by reminding Christians that they lack no spiritual gift. At the moment we were baptized, we received not only the three theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity but the Gifts as well as the Fruits of the Holy Spirit. We are more than equipped for holiness. What we must now do is to foster an incessant and constant spirit of surrender, to let the Holy Spirit lead us in each minute of our day, to find God in that “sacrament of the present moment.” When my thoughts turn to the eternal significance of every moment, I am always reminded of this quote from the great C.S. Lewis who wants to keep before our minds the significance and the grandeur of everyone we meet:

There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization — these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But, it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit — immortal horrors or everlasting splendors . . . Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses. If he is your Christian neighbor, he is holy in almost the same way, for in him also Christ uere latitat — the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself, is truly hidden (The Weight of Glory).

This is the season of the hidden, the season of the silent and still.

Today’s Gospel orders us to “Watch,” but for what? The entire point of Christianity is to welcome Christ, however he wishes to come to us. We must watch for him in our experiences, in our neighbors, and in the Blessed Sacrament. Let us also watch for him in the still of the night, the beauties of creation and in and throughout our homes. This is the season to prepare for the Lord who comes quietly and without pyrotechnics. He is a humble God who relied on the meekness of the most beautiful virgin to measure his greatness to our littleness: “For he assumed at his first coming the lowliness of human flesh” (Preface I for Advent). Let us encourage the faithful today to stay awake in order to meet today and throughout the Advent Season in all their preparations for Christmas, in their invitation to be a bit more with Mary in these last few weeks of her pregnancy, and in how they live their Catholic lives at each and every moment.

Suggestions for Further Reading: Alfred Delp, S.J., Advent of the Heart: Seasonal Sermons And Prison Writings 1941-1944 (Ignatius Press, 2006) and Brendan Byrne, S.J., A Costly Freedom: A Theological Reading of Mark’s Gospel (Liturgical Press, 2008).

David Vincent Meconi, SJ About David Vincent Meconi, SJ

Fr. David Meconi, SJ is professor of patristic theology at St. Louis University and editor of the Homiletic and Pastoral Review (HPR). Fr. Meconi would like you to know that he offers Mass each month for readers of HPR; please be assured of his prayers for you.


  1. Matthew 25 doesn’t teach that we Christians will be judged on how we treat others. It teaches that others will be judged on how they treat us Christians.The “brethren” of verse 40 and the “least ones” of verse 45 signify followers of Christ. That is how the words were understood for the first 1,800 years of the church. It is only relatively recently that we have lost the meaning of this passage.