Sadly, when we hear on the news or read on our timelines reports of a Cop being killed in the line of duty; of a hate-filled attack that has terrorized a community; of a Church being burned to the ground by some deranged arsonist – we’ve almost become desensitized to how incredibly evil those things truly are. These types of stories have almost been accepted as an ordinary report of just some more bad news. Yet when all three of those things happened this past week – all about 10 miles from where we sit, the proximity of it all made it all too real, all too horrific and evil, all too shocking.
Hi everyone! This is my homily for December 15, 2019 – THE THIRD SUNDAY OF ADVENT The readings for today’s Mass can be found HERE Thanks as always for reading; particularly grateful for sharing this blog on your social media sites; and your feedback and comments. I appreciate it! Have a great week – God Bless – Fr Jim. AUDIO . 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
It started Tuesday, with these two monstrous, anti-semitic terrorists launching an attack on a Kosher Supermarket in Jersey City… which left 6 people dead. Considering the number of weapons these terrorists had on them and the location of the supermarket being connected to a Jewish school that had over 50 children in session at the time, I shudder to think how this could have been even more horrific attack. Among the six victims who were killed, was an Ecuadorian man by the name of Miguel Rodriguez who had just returned to work after being on vacation. He had only started his shift 30 minutes earlier. His last act was an act of bravery as he cleared an exit, held a door open that helped two other individuals from being shot and killed before that happened to him.
Earlier, before these two terrorists began this diabolical evil, Detective Joseph Seals had approached them as they were parked in a van. One of Detective Seals primary tasks for the Jersey City Police Department was getting illegal fire-arms off the streets, for which he had been incredibly successful and commended for throughout his close to 15 years on the department. Tuesday he was doing an investigation believing that this van had been involved in a homicide over the weekend. As he approached the van, they simply shot and killed the decorated, selfless officer right there on the street, devastating his department and family, leaving behind his wife and 5 children.
Wednesday morning, still reeling and trying to process that horrific news, we learned that Most Blessed Sacrament Church in Franklin Lakes had been completely destroyed in a fire that broke out at 1:30 in the morning. The fire was the result of a 26 year old arsonist who was still on scene when the firefighters and police arived… this individual had broken into the Church with a can of gasoline and incinerated the entire sanctuary.
These weren’t just horrible acts or random tragedies – but were deliberate, evil acts, right in our back yard. Just seeing and hearing the faces of people in shock and grief. Last night, one of the police officers friends happened to be at the Mass I was celebrating and talking to him after you could see how he was struggling with just disbelief and sadness. Knowing how many people in our very area have been directly affected by these horrific events was hard to shake.
Especially as you drive around and hear Christmas songs on the radio and see decorations everywhere. Knowing these realities exist in mid-December only heightens the emotion and pain. Maybe that’s an idealized thing from our childhoods that makes us want to lodge a complaint somewhere with the Lord reminding Him that this is supposed to be a “sadness-free” zone this close to His Birthday. It’s a difficult lesson in life to come to realize that whether it’s the Christmas season or not… whether you’re the most devout of believers or not – the reality that “life happens” that bad things happen to all people, good, bad, somewhere in between… is just that. It’s a reality we have to acknowledge. And it’s a reality that, in short, sucks.
Just sitting with my own prayer list of names, faces and praying with this Gospel reading, it was striking to see the realization that no one is immune to the harshness of life. And that can leave anyone of us doubtful, scared, confused…. wondering where’s God in all of this. Even the most devout of believers, like St. John the Baptist. In this Gospel we just heard John asks Jesus – Are you the one who is to come or should we look for another?
That’s a big deal. They have a family history. John the Baptist and Jesus were cousins. When their two mothers, Elizabeth and Mary, first met after they were pregnant with these two baby boys, the Gospels tell us that John “leapt in Elizabeth’s womb.” Right from his conception, John the baptist, the future prophet recognized that in Jesus, God was coming to the world in a dramatically new, history shifting way.
Last Sunday, in the Gospel, we had fast forwarded a few decades hearing how John had spent his life to proclaiming God’s word to His people. Calling people to “prepare the way of the Lord” by repenting, by turning away from their sins, receiving this baptism of repentance in the Jordan river. On one occasion when cousin Jesus himself had come to that river, looking for this Baptism, John hesitated – knowing that Jesus is “mightier than he is.” John argued that it should be the other way around, that he, John should be baptized by Jesus. When John the Baptist relents, (Jesus can be convincing) and baptizes Jesus, we learn that the sky broke into two, the Spirit descended upon Jesus -oh and yeah, the voice of God saying “This is my beloved Son, listen to Him.” So how awesome a moment, what greater validation could John have ever experienced that Jesus was truly the one??? The Son, the Lord, the Messiah – the one all humanity had been waiting for.
So with all that in mind, now think about today’s Gospel. We get a completely different side of things. John sends friends of his to go to Jesus and ask him a question. A question he can’t ask himself… (He can’t ask it himself because he’s been imprisoned, chained and tortured and has his life in the hands of a tyrant who will ultimately decide to behead him because of the bizarre request of a woman who basically gives the tyrant a lap dance). John is suffering… John is experiencing tremendous threats and worries and John fears that his life is in danger. With all that weighing on his mind John asks his friends to ask his cousin Jesus, Are you the one who is to come or should we look for another?
John the Baptist, who Jesus will say after hearing that question that there has been “none greater” than this prophet gives voice to all of our fears, all of our doubts, all of our discouragements. Whatever the trial, the extremes we encounter in life… when we can easily feel helpless… hopeless… this one question from John can speak to those and many other questions that may remain unasked… When we too want to ask or wonder,
Jesus – it’s not supposed to be this hard, this difficult….
Jesus it’s hard to believe in you when all these terrible things are happening around us – or when rough things are happening to my friends, my relatives – to me…
Jesus, are you the one who is to come?
John the Baptist’s humanity comes out as he’s sitting in this cell he’s experiencing a dark night of the soul. But rather than seeing this as a lapse of faith, I think it’s the exact opposite. Because he asks Jesus the question. That tell us: John hasn’t given up his faith in Jesus. Had he given up, he would’ve simply abandoned Jesus, perhaps lashed out about him to his friends and simply tried to find a way out of the terrible situation he finds himself in. Instead in the midst of the darkness, with the heavy heart of a man who is cut off, alone, and facing an uncertain future, his memory still recalls that day in the Jordan river when he heard that voice of the Father calling Jesus His Beloved Son. It might seems a distant memory at the moment; it might seem so far removed where he’s wondering was that a dream or did that really happen? But that memory still resonates in his heart. John still believes… as hard as it might be in that situation, he still believes in Jesus.
Rather than closing in on himself, letting the fears and doubts to continue to eat away at his faith, his belief, his trust in Jesus – What does John do? He shares his pain, shares his fears, his doubts with his friends, his followers… telling them to do what? To Go to Jesus… to ask that question – Jesus are you the one? He’s looking for Jesus to speak into his desolation… Not just to give him a hang in there buddy pep talk – but to speak faith-filled words that will renew John’s hope. And what an amazingly beautiful, hope filled response Jesus gives to them. No parables. No dodging. No short-answers. Jesus says GO TELL JOHN WHAT YOU HEAR AND SEE – THE BLIND REGAIN THEIR SIGHT, THE LAME WALK, LEPERS ARE CLEANSED, THE DEAF HEAR, THE DEAD ARE RAISED, AND THE POOR HAVE THE GOOD NEWS PROCLAIMED TO THEM.
Jesus is ushering in a new era. He proclaims to John and to all who will listen how the world is changing. God has come, and remains with us. Emmanuel – God is with us. Yes, with that arrival, all of creation is being renewed… John might not feel it at that moment… and here’s the thing, we might not either from time to time when we know so many who are suffering, or are in pain, or are feeling lost, or feeling without hope. There are still evil forces to contend with.
Yet the good news is that those aren’t the ends of any of our stories. As messed up, as painful as that dark night you are going through might be… As terrible or scared or afraid as we might be… The call of Advent is to not give up. We cry out Come Lord Jesus… whose coming is putting the forces of evil on notice that it’s reign is coming to an end.
The very fact that we are here is because people have experienced some of that renewal that re-creation. So we’re encouraged to “rejoice” this Sunday at what has already been experienced in the world… To not let the waiting for our darkness to disappear, to not let the ongoing trials we face to prevent us from going to Jesus. But to rejoice in the Lord always… To rejoice God is near… (Phil 4: 4-5) To rejoice that God is with us. To rejoice in Jesus’ victory on the cross and being risen from the grave has upended history forever. To rejoice that in Him and through Him, we are promised that we too will experience victory over death and the grave.
That’s not to say we’re to deny our feelings or pretend that there’s not atrocious things that still happen in the world, in our worlds. But we can’t let the evil one to compound his attacks by giving into despair. St. James in the second reading tonight said You too must be patient. Make your hearts firm because the coming of the Lord is at hand. Easier said then done for sure. And it’s understandable if we find ourselves like John the Baptist asking “are you the one” with our own questions. But too often people let that be the point of departure rather than doing what John did going to Jesus, and asking Him. Crying out to Him. Letting Him enter in and to bring the change, the renewal, the healing to a hurting world that we long to be renewed and recreated.
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