10 December 20172 Advent

Homily from Father James Gilhooley
2 Advent
Second Sunday of Advent - B Cycle - Mark 1:1-8

A theologian had a painting of the crucifixion in his study. It showed John the Baptist with a long bony finger pointing to Jesus. One day a visitor asked, "What is your job?" The theologian walked over to the painting and said, "I am that finger." Do our lives point people to Christ? Or do they turn them away from Him? Before you answer, remember what Gandhi said, "I would have become a Christian if ever I had met one." In a recent year, Joseph Donders writes, "One third of all the books in the United States were written on Jesus." Given that remarkable fact, can you fault the Church setting up the training camp season that is Advent at the opening of a new Liturgical year? The Church gives us four weeks to burn off ten pounds of ugly spiritual fat.

Thus we will be properly ready to greet the Nazarene on His annual Christmas visit. St Mark today in 1:1 heralds Him without any hesitation as "Jesus Christ the Son of God." He shows no doubt, no hesitation. Talk about clearing the decks for action. Plato wrote, "To find the maker and father of this universe is a hard task; and when you have found him, it is impossible to speak of him before all people." I do not know whether the Evangelist Mark ever read that line while working in Rome with St Peter. But one point is certain. Mark tells us in in this Gospel he disagrees with Plato. Elizabeth Vanek catches the spirit of this season: "Advent is the season of the pilgrim God...We often speak of our journey towards God, but, in reality, it is God who does most of the traveling."

The last four miles you might say He leaves to us. The ideal would be to cover one mile in each of these Advent weeks. The first mile should already be behind us. The slowest of us can walk a mile weekly in even the oldest sneakers. Instead of selling out, a bishop suggests that our challenge is to stand out. This Advent abstain from food one day each week to better understand what hunger is. And why not give 10% of your income to a charity? Stand out. Advent is designed to bring out Abraham Lincoln's better angel in us. We should be advancing toward the peace this season promises. And, as Donders says, "peace is the opposite of pieces; to be at peace means to be of one piece." We should all make this verse quoted by William Barclay the capstone of this Advent: "In youth, because I could not be a singer, I did not even write a song. I set no little trees along the roadside because I knew their growth would take so long.

But now from the wisdom that the years have brought me, I know that it may be a blessed thing to plant a tree for someone else to water or make a song for someone else to sing." John the Baptizer's message can be summed up in that one word, "Repent." In Mark 1:5, the Master Himself also went on the record, "Repent and believe in the Gospel." What better way to turn over that famous new leaf than arranging a prime time rendezvous with the Teacher in confession. St Augustine wrote, "The confession of evil works is the first beginning of good works." Barclay notes that it is only when we say, "I am a sinner" that Jesus can say, "I forgive." CS Lewis writes that though God made us without our consent, He will not save us without our permission.

And, as we walk away from that encounter with the Master, dwell on the story that says that Christ takes all our confessed sins and hurls them to the bottom of a deep lake. Then on the lake shores, He nails a large sign that reads "NO FISHING." George Eliot reminds us, "It's but little good you'll do watering last year's crops." A woman had a vision of Jesus. She went and told her priest. He said, "I will not believe unless your Christ tells you my sins. The woman returned. The priest asked what his sins were. She replied, "Jesus said He has forgotten them." It is well said that if you want God to be pleased with you, then you must please God. Confession would be a good start. The monk says that this Christmas, instead of dreaming of and unhappy. Become a Christian that Gandhi would admire. 

Homily from Father Joseph Pellegrino
2 Advent
Second Sunday of Advent: If We Want Change, We Need To Change

He didn't look like them. He didn't talk like them. He was not part of the crowd that had always held power. But the people listened, and followed. John the Baptist dressed in camel's hair and had a leather belt. He didn't dress like the Scribes, Pharisees and Temple priests. John the Baptist talked about change that was certainly coming. The thing is for the change to take place, it was the people who had to change. If there is going to be no more war, then people need to stop hating others. If there is going to be charity and care for all, then people needed to look inside their hearts and pull out the justice of God that resides there. If there is going to be change, then people needed to change. "Prepare for the Lord," John the Baptist proclaimed. "Prepare for the Lord by preparing yourselves."

And the people from throughout the Judean countryside and the inhabitants of Jerusalem went out to the Jordan River where John was preaching. And they confessed their sins. And they were baptized. And the change had begun. We all want our country and our world to be better. We all want a cure for cancer and AIDS and malnutrition, and every ailment or condition that is killing people. We all want the poor to be cared for. We all want an end to violence both that which is carried out by terrorists and that which takes place in every town and city throughout the world. We all want peace. But what are we doing about it? The heart of John the Baptist's message is that if we want change, if we really want the One who will reform the world and return mankind to God's original plan, then we need to change.

This is tough. It is just so much easier to sit back and expect the government to change, the world to change, other people to change. But if we really want change we can believe in, the we need to change. The Gospel is calling us to look to ourselves. How do we respond when we are called to choose love or hate? So often we choose hate. We claim that our hatred is justified. But hatred is never justified. Let me give you some examples. You have a co-worker who is jealous of you. He can't stand the fact that you gained a position in two years that took him five years to attain. He is continually making snide remarks regarding you, outright lies to be exact. You are concerned that they will get to your supervisor. "I have a right to hate him," you claim. Only none of us ever have a right to hate.

Or perhaps you are an intelligent student who has a teacher that can't stand the fact that you are more intelligent than he is. He looks for opportunities to mock us in front of your classmates. You have blonde hair; so he makes blond jokes looking right at you, and everybody in the class laughs. Except you. You want to respond with hatred. "I have a right to hate him," you claim. Only none of us ever has the right to hate. A final example. Perhaps, you have had a relative, maybe even a sibling or a parent, who constantly belittles you. My guess is that most of us have had this situation. How have we responded? Sadly, many times we have responded by matching nastiness with nastiness. How can we expect there to be peace in the world, when we respond to hate with hate?

God is calling us to look into ourselves and respond to hate with love. If we want the world to change, we need to change. Every year many of you join us priests as we go on rants about how society is trying to destroy the meaning of Christmas. We decry the use of the terms Holiday Season or Winter Holidays, or Seasons Greetings, as well we should. We are saddened that a spiritual celebration has been transformed into a series of parties. And we should be sad. But, perhaps, we should all be less concerned with the commercialization of Christmas and the debasement of Christmas and be more concerned with how we ourselves plan to celebrate Christmas. More than that, we should be more concerned with how we are celebrating Advent. What exactly are you and I doing to prepare the world for Jesus Christ? John the Baptist tells us is to look within ourselves, change our own attitudes, and then trust God to allow this change to have a part in the transformation the world. Change will only take place if we are the ones who change. That is what it means to Prepare for the Lord.

Homily from Father Phil Bloom
* Available in Spanish - see Spanish Homilies
2 Advent
God's Thirst, Our Thirst Week 2: Inner Poverty
(December 10, 2017)

Bottom line: Our thirst for God flows for the sense of inner poverty. Jesus wants us to reach out to those who are hurting. During Advent we're focusing on prayer as the combination of God's thirst and our thirst - and how that thirst should motivate us to reach out to those who are are hurting. Last Sunday we had a testimony about St. Vincent de Paul and today about Catholic Community Services. We also saw how the mathematician-scientist Blaise Pascal can help us understand our need for God - the fact we experience a tension between misery and magnificence. We express this need when we admit our sins and to seek forgiveness. In today's Gospel John baptizes people in the Jordan river as they acknowledge their sins. Not an easy thing to do, takes courage and humility.

To again quote Pascal: "There are only two kinds of men: the righteous who think they are sinners and the sinners who think they are righteous." This weekend let me give advice: If you miserable about yourself, don't go to a psychiatrist. Go to Jesus. Not that it's bad to go to a psychiatrist, but try Jesus. You may feel like giving up but Jesus does give up on you. Next Sunday we have Advent Family Adoration - a good moment to encounter Jesus. Bring your children, your grandchildren. Or just bring yourself. It's a nice coincidence next Sunday is my 46th ordination anniversary. Can't think of a better way to celebrate than with families of St. Mary of the Valley. That's for next Sunday. Today we focus on Catholic Community Services. Remember that our thirst for God flows for that sense of inner poverty. Jesus wants us to reach out to those who are hurting. I now ask you to give full attention to Catholic Community Service representative _____________________________.

Homily from Saint Vincent Archabbey, Latrobe, Pa
Saint Vincent Archabbey
2 Advent
Second Sunday of Advent, Modern
Isaiah 40; 1-5, 9-11, 2 Peter 3:8-14, Mark 1: 1 – 8

On this second Sunday of Advent John the Baptist makes an appearance and shouts out to us; "prepare the way of the Lord!” This is the fulfillment of a prophecy from Isaiah seven hundred years earlier when Isaiah is told the people of Israel that when it is the time of the Messiah's coming a voice will cry out to prepare them. Isaiah told the people to make a highway for the Lord. I think of this image often when I drive through or near a highway construction project. I'm amazed at how a mountainous area can end up with a straight highway after the hills are leveled and bridges are built over rivers and ravines. Imagine what it took to build a highway 2,700 years ago during the time of Isaiah. The image of building a highway for the Lord was even more spectacular when you think of the work that was done without heavy equipment.

When John the Baptist makes the announcement to get ready for the Lord he makes it clear that the highway for the Lord leads to our hearts. John the Baptist takes his prophetic call seriously and lives a life of prayer and fasting. His message is a simple message, "repent.” He does a baptism of repentance for those who accept his call. A baptism that is meant to prepare them to recognize and accept Jesus as Messiah and Lord. John was a charismatic figure whose deep faith, austere life-style, and bold message attracted people. Some had their brief time in his presence watching him, listening to him, and repenting before moving on changed because of their encounter with him. Others came and remained with John as his disciples. John could easily have basked in the fame and following he had, but he did not lose sight of his call. He was called, not to be the Messiah, but to prepare the way for Him, and he did this dutifully and humbly.

This leads us to ask ourselves the question, "How am I doing at preparing the way of the Lord, by building that highway for the Lord to get into my heart?” No matter what God has called us to it takes humility, sincerity of heart, and fortitude to do it well. It involves filling in the emptiness of valley, and cutting away the mountains that blind us. It means removing detours that we sometimes take so as to avoid conversion, and removing the toll booths that we put up to make travel costly. In doing this well we are making way for the Lord. The Lord doesn't limit his visits to us to Christmas. He is present to us always and the more we work on our highway the easier it is for us to see him. Ideally each of us becomes a John the Baptist in that others may be pointed in the direction of Jesus because of us. This takes imitating John's humility and the seriousness in which he took his call. John realized that it wasn't all about him. This is something that we should also realize when we look at the highway. It's not about us, it is about Jesus coming to us. It's not about us, its about Jesus and our humbling ourselves by not trying to have the light shine on us, but to shine on Jesus. This second Sunday of Advent is a good time to take to heart both the message and the example of John the Baptist. As we sing "Maranatha, Come, Lord Jesus” we will have a highway for him to come to our hearts, and we will have the humility to point others to Jesus. Father Killian Loch, O.S.B.

Homily from Father Alex McAllister SDS
2 Advent
Second Sunday of Advent

On this Second Sunday of Advent, we hear the account of the ministry of John the Baptist as given by the Evangelist Mark. We should pay attention since in the coming liturgical year we are going to work our way gradually through the whole of Mark's Gospel. He is much briefer than Matthew, Luke or John and misses out a lot of material that we find in the other Gospels, for example there is no account of the infancy of Jesus. Mark's Gospel is about what Jesus does and where Jesus goes. An important word in his Gospel is “immediately”. He tells us how Jesus does something and then “immediately” does something else or quickly moves on to another place. By this we get a strong feeling of movement and progress in Jesus' ministry from the Gospel of Mark. And in Mark too there is a much stronger emphasis on the conflicts Jesus has with the authorities. This is evident here in the account we are given today of John the Baptist.

He is everything the Priests, Scribes and Pharisees are not. They are in the Temple, he is in the wilderness. They live luxurious lives, he lives a primitive life. They are unpopular, he is immensely popular. They are proud, he is humble. He proclaims the immanent coming of the Messiah, they do everything they can to obscure his coming. And the more you look the more you will see further contrasts between them. It is very important that John proclaims the Advent of the Messiah in the wilderness. The desert for him is a symbol of the religious situation of Israel. They were formerly a people with great faith and trust in God who had led them into the Promised Land. But now the religious authorities were content with a comfortable, outwardly-conforming sort of religion and see no room or even reason for change. John attracts the common people into the wilderness to hear his message of repentance so that they are purified and spiritually ready for the coming of the Messiah.

They perceive John to be a genuine prophet and are convinced by his message. That John proclaims his message in the hardship of the wilderness gives his message an added air of authenticity. Advent itself is designed by the Church to be a sort of liturgical wilderness to prepare for the celebration of the Birth of Christ. During Advent everything in the liturgy is more sombre and stripped of adornment. It is designed to be a quiet time of reflection and repentance. In particular we are asked to pay renewed attention to prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Our difficulty today is that Advent is completely overlooked by society at large. Even in financially straightened times Advent is swept aside in favour of a frenzied consumerist preparation for Christmas. Black Fridays and Cyber Mondays are given far more attention in the media than is ever given to Advent. Advent Calendars used to be a wholly Christian tradition but now they have been hijacked by chocolate manufacturers. This is the reason I suggest that in a house with children it is good to set up a Jesse Tree. Just put a branch in a pot and decorate it either with figures from the Old Testament or with religious symbols.

A Jesse Tree will help to prepare the family for Advent because the parents find themselves having to explain just who Moses, or Noah or Elijah actually were. We should do what we can to create some space in our lives and in our homes so that we can keep Advent in a proper way. But I fully appreciate that this is a lot easier said than done. John the Baptist never attempted to draw people to himself; his first and foremost concern was to point people in the direction of God and to warn them to prepare themselves for the imminent coming of the Messiah. This is our task too; not to proclaim how wonderful and worthy we are but to point people to Christ and to tell them about his goodness and how true salvation is to be found in him. Like John we are road-menders; it is our task to open up paths along which Christ can travel. We cannot bestow God's grace upon a person. We cannot bring about a conversion. We are unable to enkindle the gift of faith in another, let alone in our own lives. Only God can do these things. Neither does he need our help, just as Jesus never needed John's help. But God invites us to carry out this task, just as Jesus went along with John and submitted himself to Baptism at John's hands. Jesus invites us to cooperate with him in his task of saving the world. He asks us to help him open up paths in other people's lives down which he can travel. We cannot bring anyone to faith, that's something between the Lord and the individual.

What we can do, however, is to prepare the ground. A good example of this is in families. Parents try very hard to bring their children up as believers. But they know that belief is ultimately the free choice of the child. The most they can do is by word and example to show how much they value their own faith. We can guide our children in the ways of faith. We can pray with them and discuss together all kinds of religious issues but ultimately the choice of whether to turn to the Lord or not is theirs and theirs alone. Sometimes this might mean that we feel just like John the Baptist “a voice crying in the wilderness” but we should persevere. Without becoming hectoring or forceful, we should persist in this God-given task of removing the obstacles that often grow up between our children and God. A simple way of leading our children to faith is to pray with them. A good thing to do is to establish a tradition in the family of saying a formal grace before each meal.

After saying ‘In the name of the Father' invite each child to pray for a particular intention such as the poor or the sick or for a particular need. Then say the traditional ‘Grace before Meals' prayer together. You will be surprised at the effect this will have on your family if it is kept up over many years. We know that the road to faith is full of rocks and deep potholes. If we can help those around us by levelling the path for them we will be doing the work of God. Sometimes this might simply mean giving a good example. On other occasions it might be clarifying the teaching of Christ to those who misunderstand it. Or it might mean helping someone to interpret particular events in their lives so that they can more clearly see the hand of God at work. Or it may be that all you can do is pray for those you know who need it. There are many such ways to be a John the Baptist in our world today, many ways to pave the way for the coming of Christ into the lives of those around us. Advent is a time of waiting and readiness. But there is nothing passive about it. Although it lasts only a month in the Liturgical Calendar it actually lasts a whole lifetime.

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