The First Sunday of Advent [A]

The First Sunday of Advent [A]
Isaiah 2:1-5  +  Romans 13:11-14  +  Matthew 24:37-44

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references to the Catechism of the Catholic Church cited for this Sunday by the Vatican’s Homiletic Directory:

CCC 668-677, 769: the final tribulation and Christ’s return in glory
CCC 451, 671, 1130, 1403, 2817: “Come, Lord Jesus!”
CCC 2729-2733: humble vigilance of heart

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“For you do not know on which day your Lord will come.”

“Mamma in her kerchief, and I in my cap, had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap.”

There’s something extremely enjoyable about sleep.  The older we get, the more we appreciate something as simple as a nap.  If I were to paint a verbal picture for you of a Sunday afternoon in January, with snow falling outside and the fireplace roaring, with a feather pillow and one of Grandma’s quilts on the sofa, then if the idea of a long nap didn’t immediately appeal to you, you would have to be under the age of thirty.

Nonetheless, regardless of age, is there anyone who likes being woken from sleep?  I doubt there are many parents who like the chore of trying to wake a child.  Sleep is something we cling to.  Even if we can only have one more minute of sleep, and press the snooze button one more time …  We don’t want to leave our state of sleep.

Yet even as much as we prize our sleep, sleep is also used in our culture as a metaphor for very negative experiences.  If we say that someone’s “asleep at the wheel”, we’re not complimenting the person.  If an athlete is on the field or the court, and the coach yells at the athlete, “Wake up out there!”, you can assume that the coach is not happy with the athlete’s performance.

In those settings, “sleep” implies some sort of “disconnect”, while its opposite—wakefulness—implies being connected, being “plugged in”, being alert to and engaged in what’s going on around oneself.  The person who is asleep is not aware of what’s going on around him.  He cannot see the “big picture”.

Even more confusing is that these two opposite ways of using the metaphor of “sleep”—as something that is very enjoyable and comfortable, and also as something implying a disconnect in our lives—are not mutually exclusive.  That is, we often enjoy being disconnected from the bigger picture.  One of the reasons that we want to remain asleep is so that we won’t have to look at the big picture.

We hear about this double meaning of sleep within today’s Scriptures.  Focus upon Jesus’ command in the Gospel Reading.  What kind of sleep is Jesus talking about when he commands, “Therefore, stay awake!”?  In order to reach an answer, reflect upon different degrees to which one can or cannot awaken oneself.

First, there is the sort of sleep that you can wake yourself from directly.  For example, an athlete can monitor his stats, recognize when he’s sleeping out on the field or the court, and take concrete steps to wake himself from his slumber.

Second is the kind of sleep from which we can only wake ourselves indirectly.  An example would be the sleep that we settle into each night when we put our head on our pillow.  You can’t consciously rouse yourself from the middle of this sleep.  But you can wake yourself indirectly by setting an alarm clock before falling asleep.

Then there is a third type of sleep, from which we cannot wake ourselves at all.  The most obvious example of this is death:  human death.

In our moral and spiritual life, we have to face all three types of sleep.

First is the sleep of vice.  A vice is a bad moral habit that we choose to cultivate, but which we can also uproot if we so choose.  Moral effort by itself can alleviate vices, although God’s grace makes the process much easier.

Second is the sleep caused by sin.  Sin destroys grace within us, leading to a sort of spiritual sleep.  We can only uproot sin—both mortal and venial—indirectly, by turning to God to wake us up.  We can make restitution for our sins, but not atonement.

Third is the sleep of death.  Human death, unlike vices and sins, is irreversible (outside of a miracle).  Ordinarily, no human person can raise herself or himself from death.  Only Jesus, who declared, “I am the Resurrection and the Life”, can wake one from death.

To stay awake, then, is to wait for the coming of Christ with hope and assurance.  We trust that His advent will bring freedom from vice, atonement for sin, and a door leading through human death into a life greater than we can imagine here below.

Tuesday of the Thirty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

Tuesday of the Thirty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time
Luke 21:5-11

“Teacher, when will this happen?”

Everything that’s built by human beings can be destroyed.  That’s why something like the Great Pyramids of Egypt are so awesome:  not simply because they are so colossal, but because they have—to an amazing extent—survived the ravages of time.  You can think of one of the large cities on the West Coast of our own country (Los Angeles, for example):  from the air, as you fly into the area, you can be filled with awe.  Yet an earthquake could destroy everything in the area in a matter of minutes.

In this last week of the Church’s liturgical year, we hear Jesus contrasting “today” with “tomorrow”.  The Jewish people took pride in the physical beauty of the Temple in Jerusalem, but Jesus is cautioning them to think also of that “tomorrow” when the Temple would be no more.  Perhaps such talk was blasphemy to some of the Jews.  Perhaps they simply thought Jesus was being irrelevant, since the people of Jesus’ day would have had good reason to think that the Temple would stand for thousands of years.  In fact, Jesus was simply being a realist.

The reality is that this world is meant by God to be temporary.  It is meant to pass away.  Yet we are tempted to think of the passing away of the world, or of ourselves from this world, as something tragic.  Instead, Jesus wants us to embrace it as the opportunity He offers us for everlasting life.

The Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

The Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Zechariah 2:14-17 + Matthew 12:46-50

“For whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, and sister, and mother.”

Why did Sts. Joachim and Anne present Mary in the Temple?  We could give different correct reasons.  It would surely be true to say that Joachim and Anne, as God-fearing Jews, wished to abide by the Law.  It would likely be true to say that over the courses of their own lives, Joachim and Anne had grown to have an immense devotion to the Temple as the dwelling place of God amongst the Lord’s People, Israel.  As Joachim and Anne presented Mary there, many memories of previous pilgrimages to the Temple must have flooded their minds.

You might meditate on any or all of those true motives in Joachim and Anne’s hearts.  But if you only have time to meditate on one of their motives, I would suggest that you consider that Joachim and Anne presented Mary in the Lord’s Temple that day for the sake of Mary.  For the sake of Mary.

Faith, certainly, moved the hearts of Joachim and Anne that day:  faith in the Lord and His holy Law.  Hope, no doubt, moved the hearts of Joachim and Anne that day:  hope for Mary’s future as the Lord determined it for her.  But love!  Love filled the hearts of Joachim and Anne.  Love created the very person of Mary through an Immaculate Conception.  Love carried Mary to the Temple that day.  Love motivated Mary, some decade and a half later, to respond “Fiat!” to the message borne by Saint Gabriel.  Love is Who Mary conceived when she responded “Fiat!”

Saturday of the Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time

Saturday of the Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time
Luke 20:27-40

And they no longer dared to ask Him anything.

In today’s Gospel passage, Our Lord tries to make clear to the Sadducees the meaning of the Resurrection.  We too, however, even if we understand and believe in both the Resurrection of Our Lord and the promise of resurrection that God offers to all who die, perhaps may need to realize what type of claim the Resurrection makes upon us as Christians.

To believe in the Resurrection is to believe in the future fulfillment of God’s grace.  It is to understand that the suffering of the present is as nothing compared to the future glory to be revealed in Christ Jesus.  It is to guard in God’s name what has been entrusted to me until that final Day, which for each of us is the day of our death.

We never find Our Lord going into great detail about the nature of the afterlife.  There are two practical reasons for this.  First, the glory which will be the reward of God’s elect is too far beyond our earthly comprehension.  Second, our only hope for sharing in that glory is to persevere in running the race which God has set before us, to stir into flame the gift of God each of us first received at our baptism, a flame in which we are purified like gold in the furnace.

Friday of the Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time

Friday of the Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time
Luke 19:45-48

“… but you have made it a den of thieves.”

The Temple was the holiest place in the entire world for Jews of Jesus’ day.  Catholics have a very different sense of God’s Presence in the world because of the abundance of God’s graciousness in the New Covenant.  But use your imagination to picture a world where every Catholic church in the world has been destroyed except one.  Every priest in the world except one has died.  There is only one tabernacle in the entire world, and only in that one place does Jesus dwell in the Most Blessed Sacrament.  In that world, how would Catholics approach that single tabernacle of the Most High?  That thought experiment helps us grasp somewhat the sacredness of the Temple for Jews of Jesus’ day.

In Jesus’ day, one of the obligations of a good Jew was to go to Jerusalem at the time of Passover, and to offer a sacrifice in the Temple.  Those who were wealthy offered an entire ox or sheep, while those with less means offered turtledoves.  So there grew up a very large market during the time around Passover, a system within which many abuses developed.

Jesus undoubtedly had people cheering for Him as He chastised the Jewish officials and money-makers.  But how many cheered for Him when the Jews asked for a sign from Jesus, and He replied, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up”?  Probably some were baffled:  here He had purified the Temple, and now He wanted to destroy it?

For ourselves, Christ is the Temple, of which we are part through the Church.  We need to purify ourselves—in thought, word and deed; mind, spirit, and body—just as Jesus cleansed the Temple, so that right sacrifice might be offered there.

Thursday of the Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Thursday of the Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time [II]
Revelation 5:1-10  +  Luke 19:41-44

“Worthy are you to receive the scroll / and break open its seals ….”

Today’s passage from Revelation focuses on Jesus Christ.  Yet it also teaches us something important about His Bride, the Church.  The entire Book of Revelation is not only profoundly Christo-centric, but also centered on the Church, because the whole book has a spousal message.

In today’s passage we hear of “a scroll in the right hand of the one who sat on the throne”.  It’s fair to say that the one on the throne is God the Father, seated in His majesty.  The scroll is the Good News of His Son.  We might even say that this scroll is the Gospel.

But this scroll is sealed seven times over.  A mighty angel rhetorically asks, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?”  The answer is the “lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of David”.  These two metaphors represent Jesus Christ in regard to His earthly authority, suggesting that only Jesus Himself can authoritatively reveal Himself to others.

Then the Lamb who is slain is seen.  This image of Christ crucified shows us that it’s through the Cross that Jesus reveals who He is to others.  The Crucifixion of the Word made Flesh is the “glory” which St. John’s account of the Gospel builds up to.

The end of today’s passage speaks of those for whom the Lamb was slain.  We hear the Church’s leaders singing “a new hymn”, during which they cry out to the Lamb:  “with your Blood you purchased for God those from every tribe and tongue, people and nation.”  This is the universal Church who is the spouse of the Bridegroom who gave His life on Calvary.

Wednesday of the Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time

Wednesday of the Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time
Luke 19:11-28

After He had said this, He proceeded on His journey up to Jerusalem.

Those who think of Jesus as a “teddy bear” are challenged by the last words of Jesus in today’s Gospel Passage.  These concluding words—“…as for those enemies of mine… bring them here and slay them before me”—conclude the parable which the evangelist prefaces by explaining Jesus’ motive:  He “proceeded to tell a parable because He was near Jerusalem and they thought that the Kingdom of God would appear there immediately.”

The “king” speaks and acts harshly.  He refers to himself as “a demanding man”, but his greatest demand comes at the end of the parable.  Of his enemies he declares, “bring them here and slay them before me.”  The question we have to grapple with is this:  to whom does this character in the parable refer in real life?  Can he possibly symbolize Jesus or God the Father?  The king’s demand is reminiscent of practices found in the Old Testament.  God Himself seems there to demand the murder of innocents.  Surely such ideas have no place in the teaching of Jesus?

However, the parable’s own inner logic suggests that the servants did have a choice.  This points to the choice that each servant of God has to follow Him or not.  At the end of each person’s life is a fork.  One branch leads to eternal life and the other to eternal death.  This is where the Kingdom of God comes to its fulfillment.

Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe [C]

Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe [C]
II Samuel 5:1-3  +  Colossians 1:12-20  +  Luke 23:35-43
Catechism Link: CCC 446
November 20, 2022

“The rulers sneered at Jesus and said, ‘He saved others, let him save himself ….’”

This Sunday’s feast is the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King.  “King” is the key word.  The word “king” distinguishes this Sunday from other Sundays.  Every Sunday focuses upon Our Lord Jesus Christ.  But this Sunday we focus upon His kingship, and upon the battle that this King engages in.  Today’s Gospel Reading describes this battle in progress.

“The rulers sneered at Jesus and said, ‘He saved others, let him save himself if he is the chosen one, the Christ of God.’  … they called out, ‘If you are King of the Jews, save yourself.’”

These earthly rulers are extremely logical.  If Jesus could save others, why would he not save himself?  Of course, their sneer shows that they’re not serious in what they say.  They don’t believe that Jesus could save himself.  They probably don’t believe that Jesus saved others, either.  They likely claimed that those people whom Jesus reportedly saved were never really sick or dead in the first place.  The claims of Jesus working miracles were mere tricks.  So of course, given that Jesus couldn’t really save others, he would not—because he could not—save himself.

What’s clear in their way of thinking—a way of thinking that’s just as prevalent in the twenty-first century as in the first—is that the golden rule of life is “Me first”.  No one with power gives up power willingly.  No one with power does not use power for the greater glory of the most unholy trinity of “Me, Myself, and I”.

Yet what the logic of this egoism overlooks is what Saint Francis of Assisi sang so ardently about:  that “it is in giving that we receive; … in pardoning that we are pardoned; and … in dying that we are born to eternal life.”  This is the logic of God.  This is the logic that leads to Calvary, from which Divine Mercy flows.

It is for mercy that Christ reigns as King upon the Cross.  Why, after all, would the Church proclaim on the feast of Christ the King the Gospel passage describing Jesus in His last moments before death?  It’s because the Cross is the earthly throne of Christ the King.  Thorns make up His crown.

Christ the King shows us His power not in living for Himself, but in dying for us poor sinners.  In this regard, we need to paraphrase the Prayer of St. Francis, because it’s in Christ the King dying that we are born to eternal life.  The King has laid down His life for us peasants.

Given all that, why do we Catholics gather each Sunday before an altar on which Christ the King sacrifices His life for us?  We do not only assemble there to give thanks for Christ the King’s sacrifice.

We also gather there to share in the sacrifice of Christ the King.  At the Last Supper, Jesus instituted the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass so that you and I would have a means of being transported mystically to the foot of Jesus’ Cross.  During Holy Mass we are present on that afternoon of Good Friday in order to enter into His kingly sacrifice:  that is, to make His sacrifice our sacrifice.  After all, we are members of Christ’s Mystical Body through baptism, and therefore share in his regal vocation.

Christ the King strengthens us not only so that each of us can get to Heaven.  He strengthens us through His Body and Blood, soul and divinity so that we might lead our daily lives in Him.  We accept the love of God at Holy Mass so that we’ll be strong enough to love everyone in this fallen world with the very love of God.

Of course, love is a notoriously slippery term.  Some people just think of love as an emotion or feeling.  But Christ the King shows us on the Cross that divine love actually is self-sacrifice.  If, when we leave Holy Mass, we wonder about how we can love others better, then we need to remember the ready answer that the Church offers us.  The Church points our attention towards the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy.  Christ calls us to leave His Church, filled with the strength of His Body and Blood, soul and divinity, in order to share that love concretely with those in the world.

Tuesday of the Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time

Tuesday of the Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time
Luke 19:1-10

“For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.”

Zacchaeus is a rich collector of taxes.  Each of us, like him, is attached to worldly things, no matter how simple.  St. John of the Cross says that just as it does not matter if a bird is tied down by a thick rope or a thin string, so it does not matter if a Christian is tied down by wealthy goods or simple desires.  An attachment is an attachment, and any attachment—no matter how slight—keeps us from union with God.

On the other hand, Zacchaeus, like you, wants to see who Jesus is.  But Zacchaeus has two strikes against him.

The first strike against Zacchaeus is the crowd, because everyone wants to see Jesus.  It’s easy to get lost and not to be loved in a crowd.  One might ask himself, “How can Jesus love everyone?”

The second strike against Zacchaeus is his small size, which may represent the size of one’s own soul.  One might feel unworthy of God’s love, and ask himself, “How could Jesus love little old me?”

So Zacchaeus climbs up into a sycamore tree to see Jesus.  This is all Zacchaeus wants:  to see Jesus.  But that’s not enough for Jesus, so large is Jesus’ Sacred Heart.

Here’s the turning point in this Gospel passage.  When Jesus reached the tree that Zacchaeus had climbed, Jesus looked up and said, “Zacchaeus, come down quickly; for today I must stay at your house.”  Jesus takes the initiative to reach out to the individual sinner.  Just as He reached out to this little sinner, so He asks entry into the fullness of your heart, mind and soul.