Friday, December 23, 2011
Wednesday, December 7, 2011
[I share with you another wonderful Advent homily from an anonymous priest friend.]
At Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts you look at Tintoretto’s 16th century painting of the Nativity of Jesus. As curators restored the canvas, they made a discovery. Beneath this painting of the birth of Jesus is a crucifixion scene. Yes, the artist had recycled and re-used the canvas. He painted over the crucifixion to produce a Nativity scene. For Renaissance patrons and consumers of art, Jesus’ Nativity was perhaps more appealing than his death on the cross. This artistic discovery is suggestive. Even in festive and happy times, the cross of Jesus is near.
Friends, we spend all our days beneath the shadow of the cross of Jesus Christ. At Baptism, the Church claimed us for Jesus Christ by tracing the cross on our foreheads. One Sunday afternoon, a child within the extended family instructed me, "Be gentle when you touch the baby." Yes, friends, most days the cross feels that gentle and light. At other times we need the help of others in carrying our cross. We understand ourselves best when we imagine ourselves as companions at the side of Jesus. We carry our share in the one cross of Jesus Christ. Jesus is now and forever risen up as our mighty Savior. Here in our new response to the mystery of faith, we pray to Jesus, "Save us, Savior of the world, for by your cross and resurrection you have set us free."
Long ago in the desert John the Baptist announced the good news, the imminent arrival of the mightier, the stronger one who will baptize you with the Holy Spirit. Now here’s a fresh and new way to give praise to Jesus Christ - Jesus is mightier than his cousin John the Baptist. That is the humble confession of John the Baptist today. Keep reading along in Saint Mark’s gospel story and you will discover that Jesus claims extraordinary strength over the strong man Satan. Jesus is the mightier one, the stronger one who is able to bind Satan and to plunder Satan’s house. (Mark 3:27)
One prayer in the Chaplet of Divine Mercy recalls the chant of the Solemn Liturgy of Good Friday; "Holy God, Holy mighty one, holy immortal one, have mercy on us and on the whole world." Let us admit our occasional weakness, sluggishness, and forgetfulness in doing good deeds. We need Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world. Pope Benedict frequently repeats the foundational lesson of Catholic faith. "Jesus Christ is the one and only Savior for the whole world and for people - of every age and place."
Friends, this lesson gives us the Catholic perspective on life. We have inherited this teaching of the Catholic faith from the apostles. We estimate the worth of this heavenly wisdom as beyond calculation. Long ago Jesus, the only-begotten Son of the eternal Father and the Word of God “now in flesh appearing” as man, arrived to reveal the face of God - to men and women. In today’s opening prayer, the Collect, we describe ourselves as students who seek entry into a distinguished group at the side of Jesus. Listen again to our Advent hopes. "Almighty and merciful God, may no earthy undertaking hinder those who set out in haste to meet your Son, but may our learning of heavenly wisdom gain us admittance to his company. Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever."
Friends, Catholics always pray for the dead at Mass. "To our departed brothers and sisters, and to all who were pleasing to you at their passing from life, give kind admittance to your Kingdom. There we hope to enjoy for ever the fullness of your glory, through Christ our Lord through whom you bestow on the world all that is good." (Eucharistic Prayer 3)
As we join in Advent’s annual acknowledgment of the gift of salvation in Jesus Christ, we confess together that salvation is a precious and costly gift because God has accomplished for us what we could never have done all by ourselves, all alone. May Jesus Christ be praised, now and forever.
[The following homily is one that a priest friend preached in his parish on the weekend of the First Sunday on Advent. I share it anonymously (at his request). I found it a beautiful and powerful reflection on both the new Roman Missal and the season of Advent.]
Today finally the prayers of the Mass sound somewhat different. The prayers are richer in vocabulary and more elaborate in their sentence structure. The words are set at a higher pitch, at a higher rhetorical register of formality and reverence. The prayers are deferential and remind us that here we are suppliants before the throne of grace, beggars before God who is rich in mercy. “So let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help” (Heb 4:16 ). As students in the classroom of the Mass, we must reach high to grasp hold of the meaning of these words that we hear and say in the presence of the divine majesty.
If we were looking at computer software, we would boast that we have now purchased a new release which promises to make our lives better - to the extent that we resolve to learn to use all of the new features of this new software package.
This new Church Season of Advent refreshes us and strengthens our confidence in looking forward to meeting Jesus Christ our Savior now in sacramental sign and mystery, and at the end of time - face to face. At the beginning of today’s Mass - along with the ancient psalmist of Psalm 25 (24), we turn to God in prayer and boast: None of those who are awaiting you will be disappointed (proper antiphon at entrance and offertory, Advent 1). Every time we gather here in this sacred space for holy Mass, we lift up our souls as those who are awaiting the Lord Jesus who alone brings us the gifts of salvation.
Here we break away from ordinary routines. The newspaper reports of shoppers on Black Friday are predictable. Two shoppers camped outside a local store at 8:30 AM on Thursday, Thanksgiving morning so that they might be among the first to walk through the automatic doors at 4:01 AM to run through the aisles to purchase an electronic treasure that will eventually pass away by breaking down or by becoming an out-of-date model. Nevertheless these two consumers display an energetic resolve and determination to buy treasure. What prize do you pursue? Advent puts at risk these shopping expeditions by praying for something else. "Grant your faithful, we pray, almighty God, the resolve to run forth to meet your Christ - with righteous deeds at his coming, so that, gathered at his right hand, they may be worthy to possess the heavenly kingdom." Friends, who would want to lose that prize, that treasure, that gift?
Although we are frail limited human beings, in Christ we grow strong, strong enough to lift up our souls, to look above. The sacred liturgy always invites us: lift up your hearts. "May what you grant us to celebrate devoutly here below gain for us the prize of eternal redemption" (Prayer over the Offerings). "Even now as we walk amid passing things, you teach us by these mysteries (of the Body and Blood of Christ ) to love the things of heaven and hold fast to what endures" (Prayer after Communion).
Friends, be patient with your bishops and priests who proclaim these new words in speech and in song. Encourage your Bishops and priests by responding to them five times at every Mass: "And with your spirit." By the grace of the sacrament of Holy Orders, Bishops and priests deliver the person and the message of Jesus Christ, the author of salvation.
In the Catholic system, pastors frequently and abruptly arrive in parishes in a process that resembles the peculiar custom of an arranged marriage, except here the bride and her protective parents were never consulted, let alone courted during an engagement period - for the testing of the possible and predictable strengths of this proposed partnership. Good and noble pastors approach gently and tenderly, eager to discover the distinctive features of a new spouse. Good and noble pastors are thoughtful and lavish in praising her good deeds, curious and willing to yield to her preferences, generous in honoring her voice first of all, faithful to her in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, and ever vigilant to protect their new home from threats and dangers.
At last week’s parish mission, the preacher recalled the memory of the Trappist monk Father Thomas Merton and reminded us that we touch and taste the goodness of God, only with others, in community, in company with the Body of Christ, the Church. Merton looks to Saint Augustine; “God wants to be loved – not in order that He may get some thing out of it, but in order that those who love Him may receive an eternal reward. And this reward is God Himself, whom they love” (De Doc Chr 1:29 ; Ps p 7). Merton reminds us - "our eternal life of praise [of God] must begin here on earth, in time. All our thoughts, our meditation in this life should center on the praise of God because the eternal exultation of our future life will be the praise of God and no one can be fitted for that future life who has not exercised himself in praise in this present life" (Aug comm. On Psalm 148, Merton praying the ps, 8 )
Friends, the Mass is our sacrifice of praise (EP 1, comm of living). We approach the altar. Here we find incomparable sacramental strength so that, by God’s grace, we might shine brightly as the light of the world. We draw near to the altar to receive the “medicine of immortality," the bread of angels, the holy Bread of eternal life and the chalice of everlasting salvation (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1331, St. Ignatius of Antioch, EP 1 ).