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Advent Weekday Homilies 10-15 Dec


 10 December, 2012. Second Week of Advent – Monday
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Reason for Rejoicing

Again Isaiah sees a marvelous vision of the Lord’s redeemed people. They are streaming across the desert, which now flows with fresh water, and the head of this triumphant procession is already entering Zion, the Holy City.

In the Gospel by contrast, Jesus is embroiled in a petty theological argument. We do not know what he was discussing, surrounded by a large group of people as well as by Pharisees and teachers of the law. Clearly confusion and consternation set in when several men made an opening in the roof and lowered a paralytic with his mat into the middle of the crowd. Our Lord abruptly stopped the discussion but stirred up an even hotter debate when he said to the paralytic: “My friend, your sins are forgiven you.”

For Jesus, the forgiveness of sin was linked with total concern for the other person. To show the full implication of spiritual transformation, he cured the paralytic who then “stood erect . . . picked up the mat he had been lying on and went home praising God. ” We realize as well that the sacrament of reconciliation ought not to be confined exclusively to forgiving sins, but should extend into a dialogue for reconciling the penitent with neighbour and with all aspects of life.

The spiritual apostolate of the Church cannot be faithful to Jesus if it is confined to the clergy, or to people’s souls alone. To forgive sins requires that we be anxious to help the other person in all areas of his life. It requires that the Church take seriously the social sins of today’s world and work vigorously to remedy social injustices.  We too must be instruments of love, so that our kindliness toward the physical and material needs of others will induce a charity strong enough to burn away sin. The removal of sin ought to have repercussions across the total lives of others. Sometimes we may first address the sins and faults, at other times it will be more sensible to care first for the physical needs of others, always concerned for their full human dignity.

 11 December, 2012. Second Week of Advent – TuesdayTop of Form

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Found, by the Shepherd
There is a hidden depth in each one of us which, when it is found by God, our Good Shepherd, will become God’s instrument for transforming our existence. All the rest of ourselves will rejoice because the ninety-nine percent of ourselves will be transformed by this one percent. The lost sheep is that buried, secluded or forgotten part within each of us.

A good example of the lost sheep is seen in the prophet-author of Second Isaiah, telling of his prophetic call that originated in God’s heavenly throne room. God calls to the many celestial beings around his throne: “Comfort, O comfort my people!” One after another these angelic creatures shout, as it were, to the earth below:

A prophet of mighty ability responded from this earth: “What shall I cry out?” and then began a prophetic career leading to the composition of the most golden poetry in the Bible. Yet, for the prophet himself, the people’s return to their homeland, away from the Babylonian exile, turned out to be a way toward rejection and oblivion. His name was forgotten and his exquisite poetry simply added to the scroll of the earlier prophet Isaiah. He was like the lost sheep waiting to be found by the Lord.

Jesus and his first disciples turned to this prophet, not only to appreciate John the Baptist who prepared the way of the Lord, but to remain at peace during the tragic death of Jesus by quoting passages like chapter 42 and chapter 53. The work of the “Great Unknown” remained lost within Israel till it was found by the Good Shepherd. Then it brought exceptional joy to the other ninety-nine. Finally, some lost “sheep” are found only by the divine Good Shepherd, Jesus himself. We look forward to Christmas when Jesus steps anew into our lives to discover hidden gifts, talents and hopes that can turn our lives around. 

12 December, 2012. Second Week of Advent. WednesdayTop of Form

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Taking the risk of hope

The Great Unknown, an anonymous prophet of the Babylonian exile, was summoned by God to comfort and strengthen the people, whose memories were haunted by the destruction of their holy city, Jerusalem. Their family bonds as well as their familiar ways of life had been shattered. The prophet imagined them saying : “My way is hidden from the Lord, and my right is disregarded by my God.”

As we read yesterday, God summoned this prophet to comfort these desolate people and to announce their return to their own land along the “way of the Lord.” In response to God’s inspiration, he composed the melodious, sweet-sounding and richly theological poems in chapters 40-55. As he comforted the people, he stirred their hopes. Hope can be liberating, uplifting and productive of new life. Hopes that are not riveted on things and actions but center upon persons tend to be very encouraging. Such hopes take the burden from us. Such is the case when we hope in the Lord. Whenever we hope in people, we strengthen them and so make their burden light. If we sense that someone has great hopes in us – not just in what we can do for them but rather in us – we are complimented and buoyed up. We feel that we can “soar as with eagle’s wings!” Such hopes in people have their risks! First of all, they lack the definite plan of action associated with hopes in what people can do. St. Paul wrote that, “Hope is not hope if its object is seen; for how is it possible for one to hope for what one sees? And hoping for what we cannot see means awaiting it with patient endurance” (Rom 8:24-25).

Then we who are weary will be refreshed. To take the burden of such risks upon ourselves and learn from Jesus, actually refreshes us. It is always a transforming experience to undertake a great work with someone who is “gentle and humble of heart.” Truly in such situations, “my yoke is easy and my burden light.”

13 December, 2012. Second Week of Advent. Thursday. (or: St. Lucy, virgin and martyr)op of Form

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Two sides of biblical religion
Two sides of biblical religion remain constant throughout the ages. God is to be both loved and feared! Jesus announced peace and yet brought the sword (Jn 14:27; Lk 12:51-53). This contradictory combination is paralleled in in everyday experience. In the entire animal kingdom, from the irrational to the human, parental love surrounds its offspring with tender concern and guards it fiercely!

Isaiah imagines God addressing Israel with nicknames, calling them “my little worm” and “my little maggot,” as a parent might affectionately do to a child squirming in its arms. Understood in this way, the words, “worm” and “maggot,” are not demeaning, but are surpriseing when attributed to God. We expect God to speak with more dignity! But Isaiah imagines God as not afraid of sacrificing his majesty, to be known as a loving and tender parent, for he will summon every ounce of his omnipotence to defend the poor and the powerless. He will thresh the mountains of evil so throughly that their dust will be carried away by a strong wind. A farmer tramples upon the harvested wheat, then throws the stalks into the air. The seed because it is heavier falls to the ground while the withered leaves and dried up stem are swept away by the wind. Threshing, we note, combines the heavy determination of stamping and beating with the easy rhythmic sweep of throwing the stalks into the air . . . just so, God blends tenderness with strength. If any of us has witnessed the mighty transformation that makes the desert bloom and even the mountain ridges flow with water, we would hardly know whether to dance with reckless joy or to cover our face out of fearful disbelief and our inability to cope with it all. Again God blends tenderness with strength.

Jesus’ words combine gentleness with power. He refers to newborn infants, the least in the kingdom of God, who are greater than the fierce prophets, Elijah and John the Baptist. Then he turns the coin over and changes the metaphor to the violent who take the kingdom by force. The weakest infant is stronger and better prepared to occupy the kingdom than Elijah and John whose preaching attracted yet astonished and frightened people. The Gospel ends with a serious warning: “Heed carefully what you hear!” Everyone of us occasionally comes up against violent opposition. How are we to cope with it? Today’s reading asks us to respond with the consciousness of Christmas and the presence of God as an infant.

14 December, 2012. Second Week of Advent. Friday. (or: St. John of the Cross)Top of Form

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Complementary styles
We each prefer one way of life more than another, and that is very normal. God created each one of us with a distinctive personality, special preferences, individualized vocations. Because we tend to become overly specialized with strong likes and dislikes, we badly need others to complement what we are lacking. St. Paul even went so far as to say that each of us must fill up what is lacking in the body of Christ! Yet we tend to resist this advice; we do not want to admit our weaknesses. We even become defensive and then aggressive if others detect our inability to perform or control.

This ability to fill in what is missing in any one of us becomes the issue or main point of Jesus’ words. Jesus quoted a proverb which acknowledged how we need joyful people who dance readily and compassionate people always ready to sympathize. Yet each was spurned and ridiculed: “We piped you a tune but you did not dance! We sang you a dirge but you did not wail!” He was leading up to the punchline: John [the Baptist] appeared neither eating nor drinking, and people say, “He is mad!” The Son of Man appeared eating and drinking, and they say, “This one is a glutton and a drunkard!” Many practical conclusions can be drawn from these words, but most of all he is pleading with us to let others be themselves.

We must not judge harshly nor condemn too quickly. Others have every right to that which God provides so plentifully and so freely – namely, time. We all need time to grow and so develop our own individual talents. We long to be encouraged and affirmed, so that we can keep trying. Others must be patient and tolerant, overlooking mistakes, gently correcting, learning from us all the while. As a community or family, we must be anxious to profit from all the talents around us – from those prompt to sympathize with our sorrows, from those who are austere, as well as from those who are more easygoing, sociable and even bounding outside the accepted norms. Jesus ate with tax collectors and others outside the law.

If we remain united in love, we will be quick to applaud and slow to judge. We will persevere through troubles and give everyone the necessary time and space to grow and to make his or her contribution. We will appreciate the help and contribution of others, all the more as we develop our own specialized talents. Only through others will we be truly balanced and integral in our values and attitude.

15 December, 2012. Second Week of Advent – SaturdayTop of Form

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What Elijah means to us
Elijah certainly caught the imagination of the Israelites, as patron saint for those in need. Because this fierce, fiery prophet was taken from the earth in a whirlwind (2 Kgs 2:11), a tradition arose that he must return before the great messianic day. The abruptness with which he ended his days on earth corresponds well with his sudden first appearance in the Bible. He stood without any formal introduction in the presence of King Ahab, announcing a famine upon the land (1 Kgs 17:1). As we read the account of Elijah from 1 Kings 17 to 2 Kings 2, he seemed to be caught between violently contrasting scenes. Tenderly he brought a dead boy back to life for the sake of the widowed mother (1 Kgs 17:22), but in the very next chapter he confronted four hundred and fifty false prophets who were eventually brought down to the brook Kishon, where Elijah slit their throats in mass execution. Elijah, we see, can act with exceptional strength and self-confidence, yet he can be so discouraged as to flee all the way to Mount Sinai to be consoled in a quiet vision of the Lord’s pesence (1 Kgs 19).

While John the Baptist shows some of the more austere and violent aspects of Elijah, Jesus saw himself also in the role of Elijah the persecuted prophet who ushered in the day of the Lord. Elijah came to symbolize the total transformation of Israel through God’s exceptional intervention.

Today’s reading from Sirach omits verses 5 to 8 of chapter 48. More of the marvelous exploits of Elijah are recorded there. The liturgy suggests that Elijah’s great accomplishment was to reestablish unity within the families and tribes of Israel.

We all recognize unity of faith and practice in the Church as the most difficult goal to achieve – especially nowadays, when such a range of opinion can be expressed in the electronic media. If a serious division sets in between members of the same family, it can seem impossible to restore love and agreement, unless there is concession and compromise on both sides. When believers split off from one another, we end up with the overwhelming scandal of divided Christianity and the violent differences between Christianity, Judaism and Islam, three world religions sprung from the same parent and patriarch, Abraham.

Jesus as and John the Baptist preached their respective messages they encountered fierce opposition. Because John the Baptist confronted Herod for his immoral union with his brother’s wife, he was eventually beheaded. Because Jesus strove to bring dignity to people considered “outlaws” by religious authorities he too began to be hounded by opposition and even open persecution. Both John the Baptist and Jesus stood up for common decency and normal human dignity. They worked for unity, but we notice that it was not unity at any cost. Yet, at the heart of his message Jesus expects his followers to form one family of love; so it is a goal that we may never give up hope of achieving, and one to which we constantly return in prayer.