Readings

Isaiah 2:1-5

Psalms 122:1-2, 3-4, 4-5, 6-7, 8

Romans 13:11-14

Matthew 24:37-44
First Sunday of Advent - Dec 1, 2019

This Advent is different from every other Advent that we have ever lived, ever. It is different because we are different. In the past year, we have changed. We have another year of life under our belts. Maybe it was a year full of successes, joys, and advances. Maybe it was a year full of failures and sins. Maybe it was a year of suffering and hardship. Whatever happened during the past year, it has affected us. We have more experience, more knowledge, and, we hope, a little more wisdom and a deeper love for God and neighbor.

As a result, when we turn our attention once again to Advent, to the three comings of Christ: his first, 2000 years ago; his last, sometime in the future, and his ongoing one, through his grace, his providence, and the sacraments - when we turn our attention to these three comings of Christ, we will see something new, something different. Jesus Christ is God. He is infinite beauty, power, goodness and truth. We can never know him completely. He is an inexhaustible treasury of greatness.

Because of our life experience during the past year, we are now ready to discover new facets of this treasure, new levels of meaning, wisdom, strength and joy. God's providence has been preparing us over this past year, so that we could now learn things about God and his plan of salvation that he couldn't show us before, because we weren't ready. All three of those comings of Christ have the same purpose: to reestablish and deepen our friendship with God. He is looking forward making that happen, to deepening our friendship with him, in these coming weeks of Advent.

The Gospel passage we just listened to is part of a conversation that Jesus had with his Apostles after a day of preaching in the Temple, just before his passion. He and his Apostles left Jerusalem and made their way back towards the nearby town of Bethphage where they frequently stayed. To get there, they had to climb the Mount of Olives, where, in just a little while, Jesus would begin his agony. Near the top they sat down to rest - that's when the Apostles questioned Jesus about his second coming. 

We can picture him teaching them, as they relax in the cool of the evening, gazing at the glorious city of Jerusalem spread beneath them, glittering in the afternoon sun. See the gleaming marble and domes of the city, recently refurbished by King Herod the Great. See the busy throngs pouring in and out of the city gates and through the city streets, preoccupied with the hundred-and-one cares of daily living. See the sun setting behind the guard towers on the far side of the city walls, silhouetting the taller palaces and sending jets of color through the clouds. 
Hear the voice of Jesus. 

Did he speak slowly, or was he full of an eagerness and zeal? Did his voice reveal the sadness he felt at being rejected by the city leaders, or the enthusiasm of knowing that the Church for which he was about to give his life would last until the end of time, pouring his grace into the hearts of people throughout the globe? 

See the faces of his twelve closest disciples and friends. Some are rapt with attention; others perhaps are disturbed by his words and look off into the distance. Some are perplexed. All are simply glad to be at their Master's side... 
Advent is a time when Jesus invites us to climb the mountainside and sit conversing with him, listening to his words and trying to understand them better, just as the Apostles did. All of us here today believe that God has new things to show us this Advent, new strength to give us, new wisdom to teach us - if we didn't believe it, we wouldn't be here. But at the same time, we also know ourselves. We know that in the past, not all of our Advents were as enriching as they should have been.

What can we do to make sure this Advent is different, that it fulfills God's expectations? God will be doing his part, but how can we do our part?

Our part consists of two things. First, we need to renew our commitment to spend some time every day just with Jesus, in prayer. It can be simple - maybe even just ten or fifteen minutes reading a good spiritual book, or reflecting on the Bible. Unless we carve out at least a few moments to spend just with God, it will be almost impossible to hear him speak to our hearts.

Second, we need to share our faith. The best way to refresh our awareness of everything God has done in history and in our own lives is to share the news with others. So many of our neighbors, colleagues, and family members are far away from Christ! Their lives lack the hope and meaning that only Christ can give.

This Advent, we should be God's messengers to them, just as the angels were God's messengers to the shepherds on the first Christmas night, announcing the Good News with our words and our active concern for others.

In a few minutes Jesus will once again give himself to us in Holy Communion. When he does, let's promise him that we will courageously follow his example and give him to others during this Advent.

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Readings

Isaiah 11:1-10

Psalms 72:1-2, 7-8, 12-13, 17

Romans 15:4-9

Matthew 3:1-12
Second Sunday of Advent - Dec 8, 2019

There are two ways that we can live out our Catholic faith. We can live it passively, or we can live it personally. When we live our faith passively, we are like the Pharisees and Sadducees that came to be baptized by John in the Jordan River. They were the religious and social leaders in Israel. They were the most visible and active members of their parish. They knew what to do when they went to Church, they knew all the prayers - on the surface, they appeared to be models of religion. They placed their confidence in being "children of Abraham." In other words, culturally speaking, they were good Jews. They came from Jewish families and followed Jewish customs.

But John the Baptist warns them that being cultural Jews wasn't enough. "God can raise up children of Abraham from these stones," he says. Their religion was on the surface: it didn't touch their hearts. We are constantly tempted to make the same mistake. Little by little, we can become too self-satisfied just because we come to Mass, receive the sacraments, go to Catholic schools... We can become complacent because we look like model Catholics on the outside, cultural Catholics.But our faith is about much more than that. To be Catholic is to be Christian, to be an active, dedicated, energetic follower of Jesus Christ, to have a personal friendship with him, to know him deeply and to love him passionately by striving to build up his Kingdom. When we live our faith passively, we are like artificial plants: we look nice, but we bear no fruit. Today, Christ is reminding us to live our faith more personally, so that our lives can be branches of the true vine, "producing good fruit."

You may have heard about the "megachurch" phenomenon. A megachurch is a non-denominational, Bible-centered Christian congregation that draws thousands of people to its weekly services. The phenomenon started about thirty years ago, as a way to bring people back to the basics of Christianity - a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. You may have heard of Rick Warren, pastor of a megachurch in southern California, whose book,The Purpose Driven Life, has over 20 million copies in print.

You may also have heard of Joel Osteen, author of two national bestsellers, who runs a megachurch in Houston, Texas, that attracts 38,000 people to its Sunday services and 200 million households to its television broadcasts.

You may even have heard of Bill Hybels the founder of what many consider the first megachurch ever - Willow Creek Community Church, near Chicago, Illinois, that currently has more than 100 ministries operating out of its home base. These are just some of the better known megachurch leaders, but megachurches are springing up throughout North America, and they are even sending missionaries abroad.

One little known fact about these megachurches is useful for us to reflect on. Usually, more than 25% of their members are former Catholics. A successful fitness expert in California recently explained why he left the Catholic Church: No one ever told me that Jesus Christ was offering me his friendship. When I found that friendship elsewhere, how could I refuse it?

The megachurches will come and go, as many other religious movements have done, while the Catholic Church, founded by Christ himself, nourished with the sacraments, guided through the divinely-guaranteed leadership of the papacy, will endure. But that doesn't mean that we are spiritually healthy just because we still come to Mass. We can easily forget that Catholics are called to be Christians, that we are supposed to be living a vibrant, personal friendship with Christ, not just going through the motions of religion.

How, practically, do we give God permission? Where do we start?

We’ve already taken the first step by coming to Mass. Here we receive Jesus Christ himself in the Eucharist; when we say “Amen” before receiving the Eucharist, we give him permission to be the guide of our Lives, and we affirm that we believe everything that the Church teaches for our happiness. For all that to take root in our souls, though, we need to know what the Church teaches and why. So here’s a challenge. How can you bring the Kingdom of God and the teachings of Jesus to those we encounter this Advent, these short days before Christmas. If we do that, we’re actively giving God permission to work in our lives by cooperating with what he wants to inspire in us.  

Readings

Isaiah 35:1-6, 10

Psalms 146:6-7, 8-9, 9-10

James 5:7-10

Matthew 11:2-11
3rd Sunday of Advent - December 15, 2019

Today the color of my vestments has changed. I am not wearing the blue but rather pink. It is a visual symbol that Christmas is closer. Just as the dark night sky begins to glow with a pale, pink-colored light as the sun starts to rise, so the color of our vestments goes from dark to light. In our hearts the color should be changing too.

For the first weeks of Advent, we have meditated on our need for God, our sinfulness, our helplessness in achieving the meaning and fulfillment that we long for. Today we switch gears. Without forgetting about our need for a Savior, we focus our attention more on that Savior himself. Christ came on the first Christmas in order to make his dream for this fallen world come true. And he wants to come again into our hearts this Christmas for the same reason, to make his dream for our lives come true.
When Jesus came to earth, he met the blind, and gave them sight; the poor, and gave them hope; the lame, and gave them strength. He has begun the same work in us, and is eager to continue it. We are blinded by ignorance and selfishness, and he offers us light in the teachings of his Church. We are poor in virtue, and he fills us with the gifts of the Holy Spirit. We are lame, unable to pray as we should, to bear witness as we should, to love as we should, and he heals and strengthens us by nourishing us with his very self in the Eucharist. Jesus has a dream for each one of our lives, and he is coming to make that dream come true. 

This is why the Third Sunday in Advent is "Gaudete" Sunday - the Sunday of rejoicing: Jesus is near, and he brings us hope, grace, forgiveness, purpose, meaning - he brings us salvation.

There is a famous scene at the beginning of the hit Broadway musical, Oliver. The main character in the play, based on Charles Dickens's classic novel, Oliver Twist, is an orphan.

The orphanage where he is living is a miserable place. Dark, crowded, too cold in the winter, too hot in the summer. There's never enough food, never clean clothes or soft beds. In the first scene of the musical, the orphans are eating their daily allowance of gruel under the threatening gaze of the supervisor, Mr. Bumble. Oliver finishes his small helping, but he is still hungry. So he brings his empty bowl up to Mr. Bumble and asks, "Please, sir, may I have some more?"

Mr. Bumble goes ballistic. He is astonished and infuriated by the request, and so, naturally, he launches into a song in which he explains that no one ever asks for more in the orphanage, that no one ever asks for anything - they should be satisfied with the little they get. (play a bit of the song)

Our hearts were made for more. The passing pleasures and achievements of this world don't fill us up. Even the truly good things of this world don't fill us up - no matter how many times we go back for more. Only Christ can satisfy us. If we bring our empty hearts to him, he fills them with the true happiness that begins in this life and overflows in the life to come. Christ is coming close to us again this Christmas precisely because he wants us to ask him for more - he is eagerly waiting to give us the "more" that we long for.

We are the lucky ones; we know this. We know why Christ came 2000 years ago - to reveal God's love, atone for our sins, and open the gates of heaven. And we know why he is coming again in our hearts this Christmas - to bring each one of us a new surge of grace, a new outpouring of his wisdom and strength that will help us understand and fulfill the dream he has for our lives.

How can we prepare to receive this new blessing that he wants to give us, just as Mary prepared the manger to receive the baby Jesus? The best thing we can do to prepare our hearts is to help someone else prepare their heart. Teachers always say that they only really began to learn when they had to teach.

The spiritual life is similar. Our faith and friendship with Christ take on more depth and dynamism the more we share them with others. Many of our friends, colleagues, and family members never knew or have forgotten the true meaning of Christmas. They have put the dream Christ has for their lives on the shelf. They no longer even think that true, lasting, Christian joy is possible.

But Jesus hasn't given up on them. He yearns to bring them back into his friendship and the family of the Church. A little extra generosity on our part, a little extra effort to go beyond the superficialities of "season's greetings", a little extra prayer, a little reaching out to them - these are windows we can open into their lives so that Christ's grace can stream in and touch their hearts. We still have nine days before Christmas. We can open a lot of windows in nine days. If we try, Christ will surely help us - and reward us.