Hi everyone, this is my homily for DECEMBER 2, 2018 – the FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT – which in the Church, is the start of a new liturgical year. The readings for today’s Mass can be found at http://usccb.org/bible/readings/120218.cfm Thanks as always for reading; sharing this blog on your social media sites; and your feedback and comments. I appreciate it. Have a good week – God Bless – Fr Jim
Also you can get the audios of the homilies from iTunes as a Podcast: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/fr-jim-cherns-homilies/id1440618142?mt=2
About a year ago, my brother, sister-in-law and three nieces adopted a rescue dog named Floyd. He’s still a puppy, so he’s still in need of training, guidance, correction. My brother’s really good about not just working with the dog himself, but having his daughters get involved. So they know at exactly what hour they need to give Floyd a scoop and a half of dog food. They know when they get home from school they need to get his leash and take him for a walk. They also know – or at least they’ve been warned – not to leave their toys (particularly their Barbie dolls which he seems particularly fond of destroying) or anything important to them within his reach. Because when they’re out for extended periods of time, if the guy gets bored, most likely he’ll destroy it.
A few months ago, my Mom had picked up my nieces from school and had gotten home to find that Floyd had gotten out of his cage – and seemingly had targeted my youngest niece’s art work (and hers alone) ripping it down and destroying it into shredded pieces all over the floor. (I say seemingly targeted hers, since the works by the other two nieces, which were all in close proximity were left intact without even the slightest of paw marks near them).
As my mother recounted the story for me later that night, she talked about how traumatic the whole things was… She had to move into crisis mode as my oldest niece took the dog out of the house for a walk (separating the criminal and the victim is a good first step); my second niece went into clean up mode collecting the pieces of what remained, while my Mom had to sit with and try calm the little one down who was utterly devastated that her masterpiece had been destroyed by this vicious animal. (I kind of think the dog is jealous of her, being the youngest, as I’ve seen the dog cry or try to get my brothers attention anytime he sees my niece snuggling or getting any attention from my brother).
When my Mom first told me about it, I kind of laughed about it. I mean, this kid mass-produces art work – that there’s seemingly dozens and dozens of her paintings – that I kind of chuckled at the somewhat over-reaction of my niece. But my Mom, in my nieces voice explained “No, no, no – this was special…I’ve never done this before.” So for her, the sobbing and hysterics were totally appropriate. In her 5 year old mind and heart that was it – she was devastated: She would never paint again, she would never trust Floyd again… That afternoon it was like the end of the world for her.
It’s “the end of the world…” How often do we hear that phrase or use that phrase to describe things? That feeling, that we’ve experienced the end of the world… probably has come up at some point. Maybe it was the day you and your girlfriend or boyfriend broke up. Maybe it was that day you failed that class or found out you had to stay another semester (or year). I remember a student sitting in front of me devastated to tell his parents that after a couple of days of student teaching he hated it and was finally ready to admit after 3 and a half years of college, that he didn’t want to be a high school teacher. For you guys,- and for those of us a bit older, we might remember similar times, when you first go through these experiences – they really do feel like these massive, overwhelming things that can seem like a break between the world that was and this new world that is…There’s a rush of new, unpleasant emotions that is unwelcome that just seems to color or discolor everything.
Those experiences don’t stop happening as we get older. If anything, the experiences get more and more serious. A friend of mine got fired (not laid off, not had hours cut, but fired) from their job… When my Dad passed away very suddenly 4 years ago… When a relative was diagnosed and died from cancer… When a friend of mine took his life… When another friend talks about their marriage ending after 20 years – There’s almost too many examples to think of where people that I loved and cared for – where I myself have had that queasy feeling of “the world ending.”
Not the happiest or most pleasant of thoughts, I’ll grant you. When I read this passage though, I remember doing a bible study with parishioners on it and them really not liking it. Because Jesus shares apocalyptic visions of chaos; powers being shaken; a list of every fear that we can think of being described. This is one of those moments where people’s complaints that Church can be so depressing seem justified. Here I was in my car driving here singing along to Holly Jolly Christmas and seeing decorations and stuff – and we come in here and all they talk about is doom and gloom.
But – It’s not all doom and gloom. That is the good news that this joyful season of Advent is all about. The entire season of Advent is all focusing on how God, in Jesus’ Christ comes. Part of it will be, especially as we get closer to Christmas, on that first entrance of Jesus into human history. Tonight though, reading this Gospel, we’re reminded about the reality that Jesus is coming at THE end of the world. And it’s easy for most of us to as soon as we start hearing it being described, we can zone out hearing all of that imagery.
Because with our own “ends of the world” very much on our minds and hearts, many (or maybe most) of us are anxious or overwhelmed even before we walk into Mass…
I think that’s why Jesus makes a point of telling us in this Gospel to not let our hearts get drowsy and tired by it all. It’s way too easy to give into the temptation to try and numb the pain, or distract ourselves from troubles by overworking, yielding to depression; turning towards Alcohol or sexual sins or other out of control behaviors – like spending countless hours online or Netflixing, and on and on… Which all contribute to this fog of busyness we all seem to be suffering from. And if I’m already depressed by whatever it is I feel is the end of the world in my life… and I’m filling my time with all this other unhelpful stuff – its understandable that we would feel doomy and gloomy… and kind of dismiss the Gospel reading.
Advent wants to wake us out of that drowsiness…
Advent wants us to get more serious and break us out of those destructive things that distract and unsettle us. Most especially because,
Advent wants us to remember and focus on the reality, the third way that Jesus comes– Jesus comes to us here and now – most especially as we hear His word and receive His Body and Blood in the Eucharist at Mass.
Advent tells us to take a breath, and rediscover how God is constantly trying to break into our crazy, distracted, shifting worlds… Jesus wants to come into it all no matter what it is we’re experiencing, wherever we find ourselves right now. Jesus wants to come to console, to strengthen us. Jesus wants us to discover or rediscover how His presence in our lives helps us any and everything that comes our way.
Because we’ve seen it happen in other ways. You’ll be happy to know that my niece and the art-destroying dog Floyd are buddies again (and she has resumed her creative enterprises). I can’t tell you how many students in my 11 years in campus ministry who experienced a broken heart for the first time and never thought it would heal, never thought they would ever love anyone ever again – did… The student who feared telling his parents he didn’t want to teach (and thought there was a good chance his parents would end his world) is happily married and very successful in a career he never conceived of but seems perfectly suited for him… As much as we mourn and grieve the loved ones we’ve lost – those of us who’ve experienced that type of pain can tell you that there comes a day when the tears aren’t flowing as much as they did before, when you can talk speak about that person without breaking down… Everyone of them, and us, can acknowledge we didn’t want these things to happen or for our worlds have changed and may never be the same… and there are painful, difficult experiences there. But we discovered through God’s grace, we emerge – hopefully stronger and with a greater awareness of the things that are eternal, the love that does endure all things and that is able to cast out all fear.
Advent is a joyful time to recall that Jesus has come, will come and continues to come to those who welcome Him…
We began this Mass with these beautiful words in the opening prayer – it’s probably my favorite of prayers in the Roman Missal that I look forward to every year on the First Sunday of Advent, they are: Grant your faithful, we pray, almighty God, the resolve to run forth to meet your Christ. Just think about that – Those are call to action words. They’re telling us we’re not to stand around, anxiously waiting for the sky to fall, the heavens to collapse, the world to end. Rather, we are to seek, to find, to embrace Jesus Christ… right here and now. As we allow Him to walk with us, with whatever it is we’re struggling with, afraid of, undermining our faith in Him – we become more aware of His abiding presence and the guidance He brings to our lives. Which enables us to hear and follow His words today and until the end calling us to STAND ERECT, RAISE YOUR HEADS, BECAUSE YOUR REDEMPTION IS AT HAND.
Quick commercial… We just launched our Annual Christmas Fundraiser for Newman Catholic this past week on #GivingTuesday and are already half-way to our goal! We’d appreciate your consideration and support – go to www.MSUNEWMAN.com/appeal for more details