Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand

DECEMBER 8, 2019 SECOND SUNDAY OF ADVENT (Lec. 4)       

1)         Isaiah 11:1-10

2)         Romans 15:4-9

3)         Matthew 3:1-12 Gospel related: CCC 523, 535, 678

Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. This is John the Baptist’s nine-word, takeaway message. In many ways, the best homily ever! And seemingly without much trouble or extensive explanation – at least, we are not privy to it in Scripture if it did exist – large numbers of people hear and heed his direction. People from all over a significant geographical area come to him, repent and are baptized as they acknowledged their sins.

Why? Granted, the people of that time had a sense of urgency about the kingdom of heaven, believing it to indicate the beginning of the end of the world. So they came. Hence also the Pharisees and Sadducees: who showed up more with the intention of flee[ing] from the coming wrath than actually producing fruit of their repentance. More important, John was the one whom Isaiah foretold, and his preaching resonated with the people of Judea. They listened. They listened because, ultimately, the message was not about him, but the One to come.

And there is something else important in this story. Perhaps it is not as obvious or is maybe less considered: There is no expiration date to John’s message; to his invitation; to his, if we really think about it, command. There was no “be here by 6p.m. because we’re locking the doors” added on to his exhortation. There is no Scripture passage in which God rescinds this invitation made through John the Baptist.

That’s because the One who follows John, the One to whom John points, is the Son who comes to reconcile us, finally and forever, to the Father. He himself is the kingdom of heaven at hand. He is the invitation. And he, too, tells us to repent – and to follow him. And so far, through God’s mercy and grace, human beings have had that opportunity for 2,000 years.

That we are here, together, worshiping the God who invites us to eternal life means that we’ve paid at least some attention to the message. In our baptism, and brought to completion in our confirmation, we have the fullness of the Holy Spirit which binds us to the Father and the Son. We have the fruit and gifts of the Spirit, and God’s grace to help us as we strive to follow Christ.

Yet John’s message is no less urgent for us today, because just like the people of Judea, we know not the hour or day of Christ’s return. So thank God that he does not ever revoke this invitation! Because, despite the tools God gives us, we still fall short: we sin; we fail to change what we need to change. Therefore, we still need to repent when it is called for. And God, in his infinite mercy and love, rejoices in this reconciliation. He encourages us in [our] harmony with one another, and our keeping with Christ Jesus, as Paul says.

This is the Good News we proclaim. The kingdom of heaven is at hand, and we have a small taste of its fullness here in our celebration of the Mass, and by our partaking of the Eucharist. God is truly good.

Advent season: prayer, penance and longing for God

DECEMBER 1, 2019 FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT (Lec. 1)         

1)         Isaiah 2:1-5

2)         Romans 13:11-14

3)         Matthew 24:37-44 Gospel related: CCC 673

FOCUS:    Jesus wants us to use the Advent season wisely – with prayer, penance and longing for God.

Adventus in Latin means to await the arrival of someone or something of great importance. For Christians, this season is very much identified with preparations for the birth of Christ, so much so that the second meaning of Advent is often diminished, that of preparing for the Second Coming of Christ in Glory. The readings that begin the Advent season capture that second meaning more than the first. 

Isaiah was prophesying at a particularly dark time for Israel and Judah. It was nearly eight centuries before the coming of the Messiah. The chosen people were under attack from the Assyrians marching from their capital city Nineveh in the north. What was to follow would be a long period of war, exile and bloodshed. To shine a light into this darkness, Isaiah was given a message of hopefulness to help God’s people keep the faith during their time of affliction.

Wars will end, the suffering will give way once more to glory, when swords would become plowshares and spears would be pruning hooks. Jerusalem will be restored, the Temple rebuilt andall nations shall stream toward it. Isaiah was given a double prophecy – the people would return to their land in the near future, but in the distance, God promised to bring them to the new and heavenly Jerusalem where it will be established as the highest mountain and raised above the hills. It is quite simply the hope of heaven, and in the Savior who will bring it about. Armed with that powerful hope, Isaiah tells his countrymen: Let us walk in the light of the Lord!

When Paul wrote to the Christians at Rome, for them it was also a time of darkness and uncertain futures. The Church was being persecuted in its infancy, something Paul knew well as he himself was once the cause of the Christian’s pain. Like Isaiah, Paul points to a brighter future for those who endure the cross – they will one day wear the crown of righteousness. He encourages the Christians at Rome to throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The same can be said for us today. Our suffering is earthly, but our hope is eternal. Advent calls us to put on the Lord Jesus Christ and let him guide us to himself and to the kingdom.

In today’s Gospel from Matthew, Jesus is also facing a time of testing and challenge. It is Wednesday of Holy Week. He will soon experience betrayal and abandonment and will be put on trial, sentenced to die and led out to the cross. He knew the hour of his passing, the means by which it would occur, and by whose hand the deed would be committed. We, however, do not receive that same knowledge:for you do not know on which day your Lord will come. Therefore, Jesus admonishes all to be awake and alert, preparing for the end of our lives, the end of the world and his second coming in glory. We must learn from those in Scripture and throughout history who did nothing to prepare themselves.

Jesus wants us to use the Advent season wisely, not only to prepare for the coming of Christmas, but with prayer, penance and longing for God, to prepare for the coming of Christ, as a baby and as a king.

Jesus shows mercy and love to those most in need

NOVEMBER 24, 2019 OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST, KING OF THE UNIVERSE SOLEMNITY (Lec. 162)

1)  2 Samuel 5:13                 

2)  Colossians 1:12 – 20

 3) Luke 23:35-43 Gospel related: CCC 440, 1021, 2266, 2616

FOCUS:    Unmatched in power and majesty, Jesus shows mercy and love to those most in need.

Even in our time, when democracy and equality are held in high regard, kings connote the idea of majesty, power and absolute authority. Fairy tales, cartoons and modern television specials about aristocrats of old seem to draw out our fascination with earlier times, when kings ruled their nations and received unquestioned loyalty.

We see some of that splendor in today’s second reading as we celebrate the Feast of Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. Indeed, the majesty of kings and queens of old is magnified several degrees as we contemplate Jesus, the image of the invisible God, who was present at creation, through whom all things were created, and who is filled with divinity. When we think of how vast our universe is – and we’re learning more and more of its unbelievable size – we can only begin to fathom the majesty of Jesus, King of that Universe.

Yet the other readings move us to reflect on another aspect of kingship – service to the people and mercy to those in need. In the first reading, as the Israelites anoint David as King of Israel, they recognize not only his success in battle but his call by God to shepherd his people. The Israelites welcome David as king because of his care for them – the same care he gave to the sheep in his father’s flock before God called him to kingship.

Jesus shows an even greater depth of care for his people. Enthroned on the cross – his only earthly throne to date – Jesus dies for love of God’s people, to bring salvation and everlasting life to them. Even more, a short time before his agonizing death, he turns to the dying thief crucified next to him with merciful words of assurance: Today you will be with me in Paradise. Jesus shows us his identity as a serene, humble and loving King and God in his last moments on earth – the kind of King that we as Christians can joyfully give our own lives to. Jesus’ majesty as the eternal God and King is matched by his love – a love that drove him to a horrible death for our salvation. 

What does this incredible King call us to? How can we serve Jesus, whose power and glory as God are matched only by the depth of his love? As Christians, we are baptized into his service – each called to serve Jesus and his kingdom in a unique way, according to our particular gifts, temperament and life circumstances. As King and as shepherd of our souls, Jesus calls us step by step into his service. He reveals our call, our role in his kingdom, from one moment to the next – if we take the time to pray and listen to his voice.

Our only security is in God

NOVEMBER 17, 2019  33RD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (Lec. 159)    

1)   Malachi 3:19-20a

2)  2 Thessalonians 3:7-12

3)  Luke 21:5-19 Gospel related: CCC 675

FOCUS:    Things of this world are transitory; our only security is in God.

The Gospel passage today hints at a lack of security found in all of our lives. It begins with disciples commenting on the costly adornments of the Temple, the center of Jewish worship. Yet Jesus explains that in the future, even the magnificent Temple will come down: the days will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone.

In what can we be secure? Not the riches or the material possessions of this world.

Jesus continues: Many will come in my name, saying “I am he,” and “the time has come.” Do not follow them! In whom can we be secure? Not the preachers who claim to have all the answers. 

What about our family? According to Jesus, some will be betrayed and hurt even by their own family members. 

Jesus seems to imply that as much as we would like to put our faith into what we can see, what we can touch, what we can experience in this life, we simply cannot. Our security cannot lie with anything that is transitory; it cannot rest with anything that is of this world. 

Perhaps one reason – perhaps the main reason – we feel so distressed when we lose something or someone of value is because we had anchored our sense of self to that thing or to that person. How many of us, for example, have felt adrift after the loss of a job, the loss of a valuable item, the damage to a reputation or the end of a relationship? It was part of us, part of our identity, a part of our security.   

The writer of the Gospel, Luke, certainly understands this.  He is writing to a community of believers who have seen the Temple destroyed, who have suffered persecution because of their faith in Christ. Yet there is hope. Jesus tells his followers: Do not be terrified. Although they will be surrounded by wars, by persecution, by adversities, they can persevere. Somehow God will sustain them. How? We don’t know. But like the bird who migrates long distances or the fish who is carried by the river to the sea, we trust that God will get us where we need to be. Our security is God, not the events of our life or the passing things of this world.  

May the Lord direct our hearts to his love

NOVEMBER 10, 2019  32ND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (Lec, 156) 

 1)  2 Maccabees 7:1-2, 9-14

2)  2 Thessalonians 2:16–3:5

3)  Luke 20:27-38 or 20:27, 34-38 Gospel related: CCC 330

In our life of faith, we are often confronted by beliefs and views that contradict and challenge our Christian faith. In today’s Gospel, Jesus is confronted by the views of the Sadducees on the thorny issue of resurrection – what can we expect after death?

A priestly group within Judaism, the Sadducees were wealthy families who valued social and economic status over the piety and learning that was important to the Pharisees. Most relevant to this encounter with Jesus, they did not believe in or follow any scriptural precepts beyond the Torah – and thus did not believe in the concepts of immortality of the soul or resurrection after death.

But rather than engage them in their rather exaggerated and silly scenario about the seven brothers and the one wife, Jesus instead compares the ways of this world to the ways of the kingdom of God. The God we worship is the God of the living, not of the dead. Those who belong to God and who serve him in life are rightly described as children of God – heirs of the kingdom – who will rise to new life in the resurrection. The rest, those whom Jesus describes as the children of this age, have no hope within them. They are lost for they have nothing to trust in.

As we focus today on our ultimate destiny, let us use the words of SaintPaul and pray that the Lord will direct and encourage our hearts to his love and endurance. May he keep us faithful and strengthen us to be on guard against the Evil One and all that would separate us from the very love and life of God.