17 December 20173 Advent

Homily from Father James Gilhooley
3 Advent
Third Sunday of Advent - B
Cycle - John 1:6-8, 19-28

The magnificent portrait of John the Baptist by the 16th century Caravaggio was shown in the United States for but one time. Were you fortunate enough to see it? I was not. However, I did the next best thing. I read the superb Life of Christ by the Japanese author, Shusaku Endo. He is the Caravaggio of the East with his pen. His splendid word portrayal of John the Baptizer has given birth to this homily. Can you imagine a country today without newspapers, TV, and fax machines? Such was Palestine twenty centuries ago. Still, detailed reports about the preaching of John the Baptist way down in southern Palestine made their way as far north to Jesus in the hick town of Nazareth. This will give you an idea of the socko magnetism that John out of of Elizabeth and Zachary possessed. We talk about a superstar. When Christ heard of the details of John's talks via the grapevine, He sold His tools and set up a fund for His mother. He walked south to check John out. This is the pilgrim Jesus. His trip was a long one. His constant companions were the dreadful heat by day and bone shivering cold by night. The journey would take four days. Finally, He came on large crowds at the Jordan River listening raptly to His cousin.

Like them, the Christ hung on every word. The Gospel shows He was so moved by the preacher that He insisted upon being baptized by him. Initially, John had the good sense to decline. He knew he had a tiger by the tail. But Jesus was not the kind of Man you said no to then or now. The apocryphal Gospel of Thomas states He said, "He who is near me is near fire." That says it all. It is intriguing to recall that the Teacher at this point was not the center of attention. He was a mere groupie lost in a large crowd. He was a follower.

After His baptism, He camped out with John and His company for several weeks. He kept a low profile. John's band wanted no one to outshine their guru. Acting otherwise might be perilous to Jesus' health. Shortly thereafter, He began His prayer and fasting on the Mountain of the Forty Days. There His message came sharply into focus. It would be entirely different from that of the Baptist. When His retreat was done, He returned to bivouac with John and his people at the Jordan River for a time. He had discovered what was wanting in the teaching of His cousin. It lacked tenderness. John preached God's anger but kept mum about God's love. The Baptist's God had no understanding about their daily problems. He had spent too much time in the desert. Their headaches could be a recession or a bank taking their home or a runaway teen daughter, etc. The Teacher rolled up His damp bedmat and quit John's riverside camp. They would never meet again, but they would never forget each other. The Master would recycle material from His cousin's sermons. And John in prison would attempt without success to renew their acquaintance.

The Nazarene returned to His own country and opened His preaching ministry. His modus operandi was clear. His cousin shouted at people till his face turned red and the veins stood out in his neck. He admonished them in rough language, "You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?" Jesus, on the other hand, would say softly to the walking wounded around Him, "Come unto me all you who are weary and are burdened and I will refresh you." He realized "a hurting person needs a helping hand, not an accusing finger." Whose vision of God is yours? Is it the God of John full of anger? Or does it belong to the Teacher? His is a God anxious to forgive our sins and faults when we get down on our knees and ask for forgiveness in the confessional. The monk says the best eraser in the world is confession to God. The answer to these questions is important. But it matters not merely to ourselves but also to those around us. We project our vision of God on other people but especially on children. Inflict an incorrect vision of God on them and it will stay with them until they stop breathing. Run your vision of God through your personal computer. If it is that of an angry God, bury it immediately. Pick up a gayly wrapped vision of God for yourself as a gift. This Christmas stop giving yourself a treatment and give yourself a treat. 

Homily from Father Joseph Pellegrino
3 Advent
Third Sunday of Advent: Rejoice!

 We Have Been Found! Negative! Negative! Negative! "The kids are doing this. The seniors are doing that. This is what is going on in our world, and it is wrong. This is why our country is going to hell in a handbag. And Catholics are joining in, or not doing enough about it." Negative! Negative! Negative! "You really told them, Father. That was a great sermon. It's about time someone said that about those people." And so people are entertained at Mass as they hear about other people’s failings. The priest's words are followed with applause. "Way to stick it to them, Father." This is not what the Church should be about. The direction of negativity is on a mean road, an unkind road, of arrogance. Where is the joy of Jesus Christ in all this negativity? Pope Francis tried to change the tone of the preaching in the Church when he issued the apostolic exhortation The Gospel of Joy. The Pope's exhortation took the world by storm.

It committed the Church to reassess its methods and goals. He called us to communicate the joy of the Gospel to the world. He told us that the main concern of the Church must be to bring the joy of Jesus Christ to the entire world. For too long our Church has been associated with expounding the same moral topics over and over again. Many Bishops, Priests and Deacons have reduced the vast richness of our faith to our positions on topics such as abortion and gay marriage. As a result, instead of being encouraged to bring the joy of the Gospel to the world, people are confronted, even harangued with these topics, sometimes as often as once a month. Sometimes every week. How are people to experience and communicate the joy of the Gospel when all they hear from the pulpit are negatives? Pope Francis was not telling us to back down from Church teaching. He simply told us to stop pounding our positions into the people.

This Sunday is Gaudete Sunday, Rejoice Sunday. "Brothers and sisters," St. Paul says in the second reading, "Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus....May the God of peace make you perfectly holy and may you entirely, spirit, soul, and body, be preserved blameless for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will also accomplish it." Rejoice, this Sunday tells us. The Rose vestments remind us that this is a time of great expectations. We have every reason to be full of joy. Rejoice, Christmas is almost here. Rejoice, not so much that we have found Christ, but rejoice that He has found us. There are certainly times that each of us feel lost. There are times that we feel alone. But we are not lost. He has found us. We are not alone. He is with us. With Jesus in our lives, the crises we face become challenges, but not devastating events. A loved one becomes sick, or even dies. We become sick and receive the diagnosis that our condition is terminal.

A marriage falls apart. A job is lost. A friend is lost. Whatever the crisis, we know that the final result will be union with God. Jesus is with us always, particularly in the worst of our times. Rejoice in the Lord. Seventeen years ago, our beautiful late Holy Father, Pope St. John Paul II, told the youth of the world to be attune to the presence of Christ in their inmost desires. His words were meant for all of us: "It is Jesus that you seek when you dream of happiness. He is waiting for you when nothing else ever satisfies you. He is the beauty to which you are so attracted. It is He who provokes you with that thirst for fullness that will not let you settle for compromise. It is He that urges you to shed the masks of a false life. It is He who reads in your hearts your most genuine choices, the choices that others try to stifle.

It is Jesus who stirs up in you the desire to do something great with your lives, the will to follow an ideal, the refusal to allow yourselves to be grounded down by mediocrity, the courage to commit yourselves humbly and patiently to improving yourselves and society, making the world more human and more fraternal." Jesus is there. He has found us. Now, the whole focus of our lives has changed. With Jesus in our lives, we are mature adults, living in His Love. Rejoice in the Lord. The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me; he has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners, to announce a year of favor from the LORD and a day of vindication by our God. These words of our first reading, from the third section of the Book of the Prophet Isaiah were read by Jesus Himself in the Synagogue of Nazareth in what we can call His first sermon.

As Christian to the heart of our being, we also proclaim these words. We are anointed by God. We are baptized. And we are sent. We are sent to bring joy to the world. We are to bring glad tidings to the poor, news that God knows their plight and will care for them through His people here on earth, the Church. We are to tell the heart broken that God hears their cries. If they are mourning the loss of a loved one, they need to hear that the Lord has conquered death and that those who have let Him into their lives will live with Him forever. If their hearts are broken by events beyond their control, the loss of a job, the loss of a marriage, or any series of events that make them feel abandoned by the world, alone in society, they need to know that Jesus is the Mender of Broken Hearts.

If they are held captive by others, or perhaps by their own addictions, they need to know that Jesus provides freedom and liberty. They do not have to spend the rest of their lives as victims of society. With Jesus they can be victors, not victims. It is up to us to lead people to the victory of Jesus Christ. We do this by sharing our joy with them. "I rejoice heartily in the LORD, in my God is the joy of my soul." I was lost, but now I am found. We were all lost, but He found us. His Grace is Amazing. How can we be anything other than positive? Rejoice!

Homily from Father Phil Bloom
* Available in Spanish - see Spanish Homilies
3 Advent
(December 17, 2017)
Bottom line: prayer is the encounter of God's thirst with our thirst. Pray without ceasing. Rejoice always.

You notice I am wearing rose vestments for Guadete Sunday. Guadete means rejoice. Before giving the homily I want to mention something that causes me joy. It may surprise you. Earlier this year my sister reintroduced me to the practice of fasting. It's a long story. I talked about it at Generations of Faith. Basically I try to follow a "Daniel Fast" once a week. If you remember the Book of Daniel he ate only vegetables and water. I invite to join me in a one day fast this week before Christmas. It won't necessarily be easy but will strengthen your prayer, bring joy - and make your Christmas better. If you do the one day fast - or a partial fast - let me know how it goes. Now for the homily. This Advent we focus on prayer as God's thirst and our thirst. An early Christian writer (Gregory of Nazianzen) said, "Prayer is the encounter of God's thirst for us and our thirst for him." Our thirst for God springs from an inner contradiction: we live with gnawing misery, yet we sense a call to greatness.

This contradiction means that genuine prayer motivates a person to reach out to those suffering. Because we know our inner poverty we identify with people in difficulty. We come to God with open, empty hands. This Sunday we see a beautiful dimension of prayer. St. Paul says: Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. But how can we pray unceasingly? A fifth century African shows us the way. He wrote a book telling the story of his life. It's not like a modern autobiography because he writes the book as a prayer to God. The book shows how everything can become part of a conversation with God. He brings in his anxieties, successes, conflicts, discoveries, frustrations, even his sinful behavior. It all becomes part of a dialogue with God.

The book is called The Confessions of St. Augustine. I encourage you to read it or re-read it or listen to an audio version. The Confessions opens with this line, "O God, you have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless till they rest in thee." Augustine shows how every moment can become a conversation with God. Now some will object that constant prayer will divide one's attention. Not so. All us have inner chatter. "I hope I don't blow it. What is he thinking about me? I wish I hadn't eaten that hamburger." You know what I mean. That inner chatter is what distracts us.

But when a person focuses on God, he becomes more focused on the person in front of him: This person has an eternal destiny. I need to take him seriously. I'm not saying I am good at this kind of prayer, but I do know that when I let go of the inner chatter and turn to God, I become more attentive to others. When I am aware of God, I connect better with others. Maybe you're thinking: Well, there's people I'd rather not connect with. I can understand that. The Spanish have a saying, "No quiero verlo ni en pintura." I don't want to see him even in a picture. For a Christian that can't become a permanent posture.

Last weekend we heard about how people confessed their sins and received forgiveness. Jesus forgives every sin. He has only one condition - the willingness to forgive others. Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. This is hard. Always has been, always will be - but particularly in our society. Cardinal Francis George said we live in culture that tolerates everything and forgives nothing. People say, "I am very forgiving person but what he did was unforgivable." That attitude makes people think some sins are OK, others beyond the pale.

They imagine that if they told the priest everything he would throw them out of the confessional. I've been a priest 46 years and I've never turned away any penitent. I may not be able to give full absolution, but always at least a blessing and a prayer. Forgiveness is beautiful. One of the greatest joys is to extend and receive forgiveness. The poet William Blake wrote, "throughout all Eternity I forgive you, you forgive me." At weddings couples often request chapter 13 of Corinthians. One line says that love bears all, hopes all, endures all. Paul is not saying we should never draw a line. He does so himself, telling the Corinthians to excommunicate a man behaving shamefully.

He quarantines the man only in the hope he will change his life and come back. In the end he insists that love does forgive all. Revenge brings temporary satisfaction but long-term misery. Forgiveness may cause temporary pain but it brings long term joy. So rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. Next weekend we will see the great model of prayer and joy. Bishop Mueggenborg helped me see that person's secret. Don't miss it. Even though next Sunday falls on the day before Christmas, don't miss it. For today remember that prayer is the encounter of God's thirst with our thirst. Pray without ceasing. Rejoice always. Amen.

Homily from Saint Vincent Archabbey, Latrobe, Pa
Saint Vincent Archabbey
3 Advent
Third Sunday of Advent, Modern Isaiah 61: 1 – 2A, 10 – 11,
I Thes 5:16-24, Jn 1: 6-8, 19-28

The Third Sunday of Advent is known as Gaudate Sunday. Gaudate is the Latin word for rejoice and is the message of the readings and the prayers for the Mass of today. In Isaiah we hear the prophet say; "I rejoice heartily in the Lord, in my God is the joy of my soul." Saint Paul wrote to the Thessalonians; "Rejoice always." Let us rejoice as we continue our preparation for the birthday of Jesus, and his Second Coming. While it is nice to hear someone tell us to "rejoice" the reality is that in the world and in our lives there are times when it is difficult to find joy. On the news we hear of wars, terrorist attacks and senseless massacres as happened not long ago in Las Vegas. We hear about hurricanes, earthquakes and fires that result in so much death and suffering.

Where is the joy in all of this? In our own lives we might be facing various trial of health, family tragedies, and relationships that are suffering. How can we be joyful with all these things going on around us and in our lives? When Saint Paul wrote this letter to the Thessalonians and tells them to rejoice, he is not being entertained in the house of some wealthy member of the community and being waited on hand and foot. It's easy to rejoice when everything is going right. Everything is not going well for Paul, and he wrote this letter as he was being persecuted and fleeing from town to town.

Throughout his ministry Paul suffered multiple times including stoning and imprisonment, too many to list here. Yet Paul never stopped calling upon the various Christian Communities to rejoice, and in his letter to the Philippians he wrote; "Rejoice in the Lord always, I shall say it again, rejoice!" When Paul speaks of joy he is not referring to a nice, fleeting feeling that makes one feel good, it is the rich long-lasting joy that comes from the Holy Spirit that goes to the very core of our being.

This is deep inner joy that comes from knowing Jesus. Paul believed and experienced that God was always with him, the Joy of the Lord was his strength, and he knew that even in the darkest and most difficult situations God would provide for him. When have a deep personal relationship with him we experience the fruits of the Holy Spirit in our lives. These are; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. Gal 5:22-23

The joy of the Lord is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. We bear fruit when we welcome and receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit in our lives. These are what gave Paul the ability to shout out for joy even during the most difficult times. This joy can be with us at all times, even the most trying times. It doesn't take away the problems pain we might experience, but it lifts us up to accept them, bear them, and trust the Immanuel – God is with us. Today the church calls us to rejoice and to walk in faith, for God is with us. We walk believing in the truth and beauty revealed to us by Jesus and share with Christians throughout the world the importance of his birth, and faith in his second coming. This is what opens us up to being filled with that deep joy that can be inexpressible but always present in our lives. Advent is a time that helps us to be more appreciative of the gift of Jesus, more open to his presence, and more receptive of the joy that comes from him. Father Killian Loch, O.S.B.

Homily from Father Alex McAllister SDS
3 Advent
Third Sunday of Advent

Today we turn to John's Gospel and consider the person and role of John the Baptist. You will notice from the Scripture references at the start of the reading that we are dealing with two separate passages from the first chapter of John's Gospel. The first three verses are an extract from John's famous prologue which opens with the text ‘In the beginning was the Word.' The second part gives us an account of John the Baptist's ministry of preparing for the coming of Jesus. We ought to regard the first three verses as a kind of poetic and theological introduction to the entrance of John the Baptist. Some scholars think that these three verses do not actually belong in the middle of the prologue but were in fact the original opening of the Gospel before the Prologue was added. /> It is thought that they were stuck in the middle of it by a later editor. These things should not bother us too much especially as the editors of the Lectionary have put the two sections dealing with John the Baptist together for us on this Third Sunday of Advent. ‘A man came, sent by God.' John the Baptist surely is a man and not divine but he has definitely been sent by God. He is a man certainly, but a different sort of a man; one with a divine mission.

No one else in this Gospel, except Jesus, is described as being sent by God and perhaps for this reason John the Evangelist is very concerned that things should be absolutely clear and there should be no confusion between John the Baptist and Jesus. We are told that ‘He was not the light, only a witness to speak for the light.' It is supposed that this line was inserted because some of John the Baptist's followers were still around and perhaps exaggerated his role and may well have given him the title of ‘The Light'. So although John exalts John the Baptist he also makes it clear that his role was to be a witness and not to supplant the one whom he was foreshadowing. Another thing that is made clear in these few verses is that the Baptist's mission was to everyone.

From the very beginning John's Gospel stresses that salvation is ultimately for all. We move on to John's encounter with his interrogators and we find a similarity in John's responses to their questions as we do later on in the Gospels from Jesus. His responses are enigmatic and puzzling to his listeners. Responses that were meant to make his listeners pause and think about what he meant. John declares that he is not the Christ nor Elijah, nor the Prophet; these are all what is known as Eschatological titles—names by which the Messiah might be known. We understand the first two but the title Prophet should be understood as being shorthand for Moses. What they meant was ‘a Prophet like Moses'. In the Jewish mind the Christ, in other words the Messiah, is normally accompanied by the two great patriarchs Elijah and Moses. This is brought home to us when in the Synoptic Gospels we find Moses and Elijah appearing with Jesus on the Mount of the Transfiguration. When John is pressed further to identify himself he declares that he is ‘a voice crying in the wilderness' thus identifying himself with the Isaiah text of the first reading last Sunday.

In its original context this voice in the wilderness which cried out ‘prepare the way of the Lord' referred to the angels who prepared the way through the desert for the Chosen People to return to the Promised Land from their exile in Babylon. But things have moved on because here John means it to refer to his role in preparing the way for God to come to his people. John then goes on to say that he is not even worthy to undo the strap of the sandals of the one for whom he is preparing the way. The phrase about the sandals is interesting because this was the task given to the very lowest of all the servants in a household. In saying this he is presented as a model of humility, one of the first characteristics of a disciple of Christ. John the Baptist has often been described as the Last of the Old Testament Prophets but maybe he ought to be regarded more as one of the first New Testament disciples of Christ.

We refer to him as ‘Saint' John the Baptist and this title places him firmly in the New Testament camp. We have already pointed out his humility but he embodies other important characteristics of the true disciple of Christ. John the Baptist is first and foremost a proclaimer of the coming of the Kingdom. He fearlessly witnesses to Christ; as it says ‘He came as a witness… a witness to speak for the light.' But to me before one can be a witness to Christ one has to recognise Christ. This is not an ability everyone has. Not everyone can see Christ's presence and action in the world. Not everyone is aware of how he influences even their own lives. In this season of Advent when we are making our preparations for the celebration of Christmas spiritual and otherwise we ought to think about the role of John the Baptist and how similar it is to our role towards the people of today. John the Baptist seems to come from another world, he proclaims a message, he prepares the way for and points out the Saviour to the men and women of his day.

We too come from another world than that of the people among whom we live. It might not be a desert, but it is different because our values are not the values of this world, our outlook is not the same as those of the people around us. And we have a message, indeed it is the very same message as John the Baptist: Repent and believe the Good News. And we point to the Saviour. Our task is to help our families, friends and neighbours to see Christ, to help them to recognise the subtle signs of his presence and action in our world. This is a great work, a prophetic task; and by undertaking these responsibilities and carrying them out conscientiously we can be sure that we are changing the world, making it a better place and enabling many others to embrace the salvation Christ won for us. Let us then apply ourselves with renewed zeal and devotion to this task of being modern day John the Baptists, not seeking glory for ourselves but by every thought and action doing our best to point to Jesus Christ, the one true Saviour of the World.

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