Bishop emeritus

TV Mass Homily 12/15/2019

Today the third candle on the Advent wreath has been lighted, purple vestments are replaced with rose ones, as we celebrate Gaudete, Rejoice, Sunday, for the coming of the Lord is nearer. In less than two weeks we will celebrate the Nativity of the Lord, Christmas. As we anticipate that joyful spiritual and family time, what does the coming of the Lord mean for us? What will Christmas mean to us this year?
In the first reading from Isaiah, the scribe describes what will occur when the Messiah arrives. “Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared, then will the lame leap like a stag, then the tongue of the mute will sing. Be strong, fear not.” But he does not suggest when the Messiah will come, only assures that he will come to save us.
James in the second reading referring to the second coming of Christ which we anticipate during Advent as well as the first coming at Christmas encourages us to be patient. Most people around us are already heavy into Christmas events, including here where Christmas at the Cathedral concerts are in the offing this week. While it is fine to actively prepare for Christmas day, we also hopefully are able to set aside a little time to prayerfully and patiently remember His coming into time in Bethlehem and to anticipate with joyful hope and with confidence that He will come again.
‘Be patient’, James urges. Easy to advise, hard to practice especially when the world around is steeped in the secular Christmas. Patience is one virtue that is in short supply for many of us. Patience, someone said, ‘is the ability to count down before blasting off’. We need to count down more, or at least I do. Our impatience is often shown in little things that may mask bigger ones. Think of some of the ways we show our impatience. Need I say anything more than remote controls, cell phones, highways and airports? Lack of patience especially about things over which we have no control leads to impatience, even anger and broken relationships.
I once went out to eat with a couple who became impatient to be seated. Once seated they complained about the slowness of getting water and the menu; then how long it took for the orders to be taken. Impatient for the attention of the waiter one of them shouted, ‘service’. Getting the message, the waiter stopped by the table so many times he was accused of lobbying for a big tip. There were the complaints when the table was not cleared quickly enough and the slowness of the bill arriving. I left with indigestion. Our impatience affects those around us.
James tells us that if we really want to be patient, we should follow the example of the prophets. Prophets having faith in God and hope in the future are more comfortable living in the uncertainty of God’s will, trusting in God’s plan and open to God’s timetable.
The prophet Isaiah in our first reading wrote centuries before Christ. He had no idea when the Messiah would come. Yet out of faith he could write: ‘be strong, fear not, here is your God, he comes to save you’. He didn’t know when but he knew it would happen so he patiently waited, prayed and encouraged others.
Jesus in the Gospel points us to the prophet John the Baptist. While intense about his mission, he persevered patiently with just righteousness. Rejected and ridiculed, he continued to preach repentance and baptized with water, confident one would come who would baptize with the Holy Spirit. John arrested and imprisoned, sent the message to Jesus, ‘are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another’. Not dwelling on his own problems but with a vision of tomorrow, he was not ready to give it up. He lived and ultimately died with patient anticipation. Take as an example the prophets, James tells us. A prophet having faith in God and hope in the future accepts the challenges, the crosses of today trusting in God’s plan and God’s way even though perhaps wishing it was more attuned to his preferred way.
Some prophets we might follow are those who went before and built the Church in times that were hard and uncertain. I read about Sister St. Kerndt a fifth grade teacher who had emigrated from Ireland many years ago never expecting to see any of her family again. At Christmas time she showed her class her family Christmas tree. The tree was simple. Instead of ornaments Sister fastened small circles of colored paper each marked with a name. ‘It is my way of remembering all my relations during this holy season and including them in my prayer to the Blessed Infant at the time of his birth. Here is my great-great-grandfather’, she said pointing to one circle. He was born before the United States became a nation. And here is my brother Tom’, she said wistfully. He’s in Ireland, obviously missing him. Sister suggested that her students write the names of their relatives on little circles of paper and add them to the tree. ‘That way’, she said, ‘we could learn about our own families and at the same time pray for them’. Soon the whole class, even many parents got involved. The tree became filled with hundreds of names. At Mass on the last day of school before Christmas, the pastor introduced some visitors. There before Sister was her brother Tom and his family from Ireland. ‘Tis’ a gift I would never dare to hope for’, Sister told the children, ‘and all I could ever ask for in this life’. She said when she became a nun and was sent off to America, she had resigned herself to leaving her earthy family in God’s care.
The writer of the story concluded, ‘for a lot of us that day, those little colored disks hanging on our classroom tree had suddenly turned from simple prayer to priceless ornaments connecting us with love and grace to countless preceding generations’, not unlike what the Cathedral of St. Joseph does for us. Sister Kerndt in a way was a prophet who patiently accepted God’s will and God’s way and rejoiced in it.
The fact is that into most lives at some point comes a real challenge hard to bear that can leave us on edge, lead to impatience, when it is hard to rejoice in the moment. We might then look to the best model of patient endurance, the Blessed Mother. She declared ‘I am the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done to me as God wills’, who stood at the foot of the cross in sorrow, who rejoiced in her risen Son and is now with Him in glory.
On this Gaudete, Rejoice, Sunday, let us continue to prepare for the coming of the Lord trusting, hopeful and ready and with patience, so that we may rejoice always, not just on Christmas Day, but every day. One more candle to go. Come Lord Jesus.