Bishop emeritus

TV Mass Homily 12/01/2019

I pray that you all had a thanks filled Thanksgiving Day and took the opportunity to count your blessings and thank God for them. Someone said that gratitude is the memory of the heart.
Every Thanksgiving day I try to remember who helped shape my life – my grandparents and other relatives, teachers, friends, some of you. I recall my 8th grade English teacher who had us diagram sentences on the blackboard, which is now an outdated teaching tool, for what seemed like hours, but imbued in me a love for the English language. I don’t know how one could diagram text messages the popular means of communication today. I think of the Bishop who allowed a new convert to the faith to go to seminary at an older age. I recall the governor of Wisconsin who I was privileged to serve as legal counsel. He taught me the 20 year rule which his parents had taught him: when you start to get worked up about something – and I do all the time – ask yourself whether this will be important 20 years from now. Very few things will be. What will be important is our relationship with Christ and the salvation of our souls. Who in your life has touched you for the good?
The season of Advent offers us the opportunity to focus on our personal relationship with Jesus. It is symbolized in the advent wreath and the lighting of candles one by one as we wait in joyful expectation for the Light of the World to more deeply come into our lives. In a way it is a countdown to his coming. But it also can be seen as a symbol of the yearning within us for something more, for meaning, and for hope. Come Lord Jesus into my heart.
The Church seeks to help us avoid the frantic parts of secular Christmas by inserting a spiritual dimension to our days. While we prepare for the holiday, we also are asked to quietly reflect on the truth that Christ did come which we remember on Christmas day; that Christ is with us each day in the sacraments especially the Holy Eucharist, and that Christ will come again at the end of time to judge the living and the dead as we declare in the Creed. Christmas ought not to be simply a festive day that comes and goes, but rather an exclamation of hope rooted in God made man born in Bethlehem for a purpose, for our salvation.
We are not the only generation that has needed reminders of the beauty and joy that can be ours by preparing for the coming of the Lord. Isaiah, our 1st reading, presents a powerful vision of peace and hope in an attempt to prod the people who were going through the motions of worshipping God while devoting most of their time to selfish pursuits. Sound familiar? I would amend the words of Isaiah to say, “America if you want inner peace, come let us walk in the light of the Lord.” Advent helps us to do so.
St. Paul in the 2nd reading encourages the early Church to center themselves on the promise of the new life they received when they became Christians. They lived in a culture that rejected, ridiculed even punished them because of their belief. They felt isolated and lured to conform to threats and pressures from government and other power figures and which led them to doubt God’s way and presence. Does that sound familiar?
We can feel that way too as time honored values are challenged, moral choices are made based on polls rather truth, and religious liberty is ridiculed and religious freedom relegated to the back room. St. Paul declares: “throw off the works of darkness, put on the armor of light.” Advent helps us to do so.
Jesus in the Gospel encourages his disciples, which includes us, to always be ready, to be right with God. He said, “stay awake, the Son of Man is coming when you least expect it.” The people of Noah’s time, though warned, waited until it was too late and perished in the flood. The thief takes advantage when he comes because the owners have put off protecting themselves. And so can we delay putting our moral house in order if we allow the pressures of the secular culture reflected in the secular Christmas to distract us. The key question then is not whether we will be prepared in our homes for Christmas Day 2019, but whether we are prepared in our hearts for judgment day whenever it comes. As one commentator put it, “we are never to be so immersed in time that we forget eternity, never to let our concern for worldly affairs, however necessary, completely distract us from remembering that there is a God, that the issues of life and death are in his hands, and that whenever his call comes, at morning, at midday, or at evening, it must find us ready.” (Barclay) Advent helps to us do so.
Some years ago hundreds of young people were at a dance having a lot of fun. Suddenly smoke was noted in the room. The band leader advised those present to leave, but they ignored his warning. When the smoke became heavier he shouted for them to leave, but it was too late for many. Had they heeded the early warning they would have been saved. We have been warned by Jesus himself to be alert, to be prepared, to seek God’s mercy and forgiveness while there is still time. That mercy and forgiveness is available to all. How easy though it is to become distracted. Yet how joyful life is when we are prepared.
You may be familiar with the legend that when the plants and trees were first created, God said to them: “I want you to stay awake and keep watch over the earth.” The trees and plants were so excited to be entrusted with such an important job that the first night they did not find it difficult to stay awake. However the second night was not so easy and a few fell asleep. On the third night even more trees fell asleep. By the seventh night the only trees still awake were the cedar, pines, spruce, firs, holly and laurel. “What wonderful endurance you have,” said God. “You shall be given the gift of remaining green forever. Even in the seemingly dark of winter while your brothers and sisters sleep, you will protect them.” As a result according to the legend, ever since the other trees and plants lose their leaves and sleep all winter while the evergreens stay awake. (Bausch) Evergreens have become part of our celebration of Christmas; ever green, ever awake, ever prepared for what comes, ever a sign of hope.
As we journey through advent these next weeks, may we grow deeper in our relationship with Jesus Christ who was born in Bethlehem for a purpose, to save us and give us hope. Come Light of the World, Come Lord Jesus.