The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Homily: Third Sunday of Advent - Year A

Readings: Is 35:1-6,10; Ps 146:6-10; Jas 5:7-10; Mt 11:2-11

Today is Gaudete Sunday, the Sunday of Joy, a day on which we’d normally wear rose-colored vestments, but unfortunately we don’t have any. Perhaps after we move into the new church, some kind and generous parishioner will donate a set for the priest and deacon.

I’m starting to sound like the pastor now, aren’t I? I’d better begin my homily…

Back in the seventies the wife of a friend just upped and left him and their children, saying that she had to “find herself.” There was a lot of that going around back then – men and women leaving their families in search of something else, presumably something better.

I’ve always found that a bit odd – people going off in search of themselves, when what they really seek is right there in front of them and within them. Certainly as Christians we believe no one can encounter themselves until and unless they encounter Jesus Christ.

But who is this Jesus? Is He God? Is He man? Is He both? Do we accept or reject Him as the Way, the Truth, and the Life? Do we acknowledge Jesus as the Incarnate Word of God?

Our answers determine both our entire worldview and how we view ourselves; for once we accept Jesus for who He is, those identity crises disappear. In a word, we find ourselves.

When we find ourselves in Jesus, He becomes the very center of our being. It’s then we begin to experience the distance between who we are and who we’re called to be.

In today’s Gospel reading, John the Baptist has his disciples ask these same questions of Jesus. “Are you the one who is to come, or do we look for another?” [Mt 11:3]

I’ve always believed John knew full well the answer to his question, but his purpose was to release his disciples, to turn them into Jesus’ disciples. After all, wasn’t John the one who said, “He must increase, and I must decrease”? [Jn 3:30]

Didn’t John, as an unborn infant, leap in Elizabeth’s womb when Mary arrived at his mother’s doorstep? [Lk 1:41] If the infant knew who Jesus was, then surely the adult knew as well. And hadn’t John, as he baptized Jesus in the Jordan, watched the Spirit descend and heard the voice of the Father praising the Son? [Mt 3:13-17]

No, John he knew his mission was ending. Locked in Herod’s prison, facing execution, John had only to convince his disciples of this same truth. Indeed, this would be the final act of his mission: to send his disciples to Jesus, He who must increase.

John’s question was not about himself; it was about Jesus. John didn’t need to find himself; he needed to help others find Jesus. That had been His mission all along.

How fitting this all is. In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus had just sent out his disciples to evangelize, to bring His saving presence to others [Mt 10]. And then John sends his disciples to Jesus, seeking answers: Is Jesus the One revealed by the prophets, the fullness of Revelation? John teaches his disciples one more thing: “Go to Jesus. Ask Him yourselves, and you will see.”

“Are you the one who is to come, or do we look for another?”
Jesus’s answer, neither “Yes” nor “No”, must have disappointed some, but John understood. For in answering the prophet’s question Jesus turned to Isaiah, another prophet. The passage, originally written to celebrate the return from the Babylonian Exile, is also a revelation describing the reign of the Messiah.

Calling on Isaiah, Jesus testifies to the signs that are taking place…by Him, in Him, and through Him. The blind see; the deaf hear; the lame walk; the poor—those who are outcasts, those without hope—hear the Good News. The Kingdom of God is at hand. And Jesus adds a beatitude, a blessing: tell John that those who take no offense at me, who are not disappointed in me, are blessed.

After this we hear no more of John. Stripped of his disciples, his mission complete, he dies at the hands of Herod: “He must increase. I must decrease.”

The Messiah has come, but, we still wait don’t we?  Yes, Jesus is present and working through His Body, the Church. Jesus heals. Jesus cleanses. Jesus forgives. Jesus brings back to life that which was dead. Jesus brings good news to those who despair. And He will come again in glory, but He must still come more fully into each of our lives.

In a few moments Father will pray these words in today’s Preface to the Eucharistic Payer: “It is by His gift that already we rejoice…so that He may find us watchful in prayer and exultant in His praise.”

Are we doing that? As individuals, as a Catholic community, are we “watchful in prayer and exultant in His praise?” In the words of Pope Francis, “The joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus.”

But do we share our joy, and do so with the same patience and love urged by St. James in our 2nd reading?

You see, our Christian vocation is not unlike John’s. We’re called to prepare the way for Jesus to come into our hearts, and into the hearts of others, so that they, too, may "experience the joy of salvation", that healing, wholeness and holiness we all long for and which alone give real meaning to our lives. 

How many have yet to know the deep joy of becoming whole in Christ? What will be the message they receive about your life and mine? Do our lives bring hope to others?

What about those who are searching? So many today search in vain, looking in all the wrong places, seeking themselves, but finding nothing.

Or those for whom Jesus is simply a name? When they ask, “Is Jesus the One, or do we look for another?” -- How do we respond? Will our lives, our voices, open their ears to the Word of God?

Do we give the answer Jesus gave? Do we offer them the light of Christ, the light of hope that helps the spiritually blind see, the light that reveals the presence of God’s salvation in our lives?

And the lame, those crippled by hatred. Or today’s lepers – the ostracized, the cast-offs, the forgotten – those filled with self-hatred. Will you and I take Jesus and the hope of salvation to them, or will they look for another? Go to the nursing homes, the soup kitchens, the shelters. Bring hope where there is despair. Bring the good news to those who hear so much bad news.

We’re also sent to raise the dead, but don’t look for them in the cemetery. No, to find the dead, the spiritually dead, go to the prisons and jails. There you will find the hopeless, those who have never known love.

Put all that is hurting, stained, impoverished, and dead and lay it at the Lord’s feet. He’ll pick it up, so nothing will come between us and Jesus Christ.

Shame and hatred and sin paralyze, brothers and sisters. Only the love of Christ brings healing.

This is our vocation: to be healers and prophets, to pave the way for Jesus Christ in the world.

Our lives must reflect God’s Love within us, so the world might experience conversion, and know that the Kingdom is here, in Christ and in His Church!

Christmas is a time of gifts -- giving and receiving…so let’s include the Christian joy we’ve received among the gifts we take to others, the joy we celebrate today on this Sunday of Joy.

The world doesn’t need to find itself. It needs only to find Jesus Christ. And you and I are the ones God sends into the world so those in search of Jesus need not look for another!

Blessed are those who are not disappointed in us.

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