One major life change for me as a result of the craziness of the viral pandemic has been going through what I’ve called a “media detox.”  I’m not sure of when exactly in the almost 2 years that this has been going on, but there was a moment, a shift for me where I started to realize how much information I was consuming.  I would go in the car and had satellite radio with hundreds of options that competed for my attention as I drove around.  I would turn on the television just to catch up on current events while answering some emails or doing something else and finding myself getting drawn into interview after interview, story after story, not even aware of how much time had passed.  Without realizing it, every one of my devices – from phone to laptop, to iPad – was in on the effort to help distract me or intrude into my life in ways I didn’t even recognize for a while.  Even when I was praying.  How did that happen?

Thanks so much for stopping by to read this, my homily for the SECOND SUNDAY OF ADVENT-December 5, 2021, for sharing it on your social media posts and your feedback and comments…  I’m also grateful for all those who’ve asked for the audio version and share them as well at SOUNDCLOUD click HERE or from ITUNES as a podcast HERE.  May the Lord be glorified in your reading and sharing Sincerely in Christ – Father Jim
-PS:  We are in the midst of the Annual Red Hawk Catholic Christmas Appeal.  As of this Sunday, we are almost 50% of our $25,000 goal- for more information if you’re interested in helping: https://www.facebook.com/donate/673334786984593/   or you can donate at www.RedHawkCatholic.com Thank You for your consideration!

When a priest is ordained one of the promises he makes is a commitment to prayer which includes what is called “the Liturgy of the Hours.” Every priest and religious sisters and brothers pray the Psalms of the Old Testament, and other scriptures several times a day, every day. The books that we have for the Liturgy of the Hours is called a breviary – and honestly, 26 years of praying with this, I still get confused with it.  There are ribbons in the front, then you flip to the middle, sometimes you have to flip to the back for a Saints feast day.  There is an order and rationale to it, that does make sense, but I still find it easy to get lost or to end up praying the wrong psalms and prayers for the day and then debating myself whether I need to do the right ones now or not.  It’s not easy being me. 

Anyway, over a decade ago, several different groups created apps for your phone that has the Liturgy of the Hours at the touch of a button.  Without fail, each day it automatically downloads all the correct readings for every time we’re supposed to pray throughout the day.  It even has audios of each of these hours of prayer which is helpful if you’re on the go and maybe want to pray in the car (which you can speed up, or fast forward through some of the optional stuff) So I got very used to just using my phone for this daily prayer.   Morning Prayer or Evening Prayer I would bring my phone with me into the chapel.  It never dawned on me how as I’m praying it, that these news notifications would pop up… which even if I ignored them, it was still enough of a distraction for me to ask myself “I wonder what that was about?”  Especially during the height of the pandemic.  When we were still unsure of what it was we were dealing with and things seemed to change multiple times a day, I found it harder and harder to tune those stupid little notifications out.  It was then that I started to realize that all of this – the phones, the radio, the TV had made me addicted to getting information.  But to be honest, I wasn’t getting information.  Maybe the first 10 minutes that I read or listened to some stories or so I did.  But after a while, all it was was more and more noise, and fear, sometimes manipulations by media figures, politicians, celebrities.

Which the more I reflected on it, the more I realize that ultimately I didn’t feel empowered or enlightened – but anxious, angry, unsettled.  And the one day I just banned myself from bringing the phone with me in the chapel, dug out my old breviary, and tried to navigate all the ribbons again – it was amazing, my prayer was much more focused.  I mean, Jesus might still mess with me in the Holy Hour – and the Lord would find ways of unsettling me, but not in meaningless ways or in ways that left me anxious or angry – but rather that caused me to do deeper reflection.  Such that I started cutting out more and more of those different voices that I had let in and had free reign in my heart and mind.  First, the satellite radio went, then watching cable news… Then figuring out how to silence and opt-out of email notifications, text updates… turning the phone off, or leaving it in another place.  And an amazing thing happened, I started to sleep better, feel less anxiety and stress.

It wasn’t until a couple of months ago when there was a major news story that I was frustrated about and I found myself slipping back into old bad habits that it really hit me how if I’m not vigilant, how easily I can allow all these different voices to enter into my life and dominate my thoughts and feelings.  While they all have responsibilities, and I’m not saying I don’t pay attention or keep informed on what the President, or the Governor is saying… what is happening in the court or the congress… what headlines are even being made in the Church- ultimately their sphere of influence has diminished in my life.   Which has proven life-giving and improved my physical and mental health.  But even more importantly has helped deepen and renew my faith.  Which during a time where we’re seeing so much upheaval, tension, stress, anxiety… I don’t even want to torment you with the google results I found typing in depression just from this past week which all cites new sources of it or studies validating how much worse that depression epidemic is getting.

In short – God is not going to be found from any of these sources, His word is not being broadcast from these places, His answers to the prayers and longings of our hearts are often not even remotely on the agenda of many of these individuals. “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” That is something that clearly comes to mind with these readings tonight.

Throughout salvation history, God’s people have found themselves facing some pretty difficult times.  The first reading comes from a prophet we rarely encounter at Mass named Baruch who is writing to people hundreds of years before Christ during the time when they were exiled.  For the people who were exiled, all around them were reminders of what they lost, how far they had fallen.  The news was always bleak.  This prophet breaks onto the scene and speaks the word of the Lord to God’s people telling them to stop mourning and get their hopes up.  God Himself was coming to save them and would lead them out of exile.  And nothing would stop it, that He would level mountains and fill in valleys to create this highway where He would lead the people Himself back to Jerusalem.  But in order for this to happen, they had to tune out all those negative voices in their world, all those negative voices they had taken to heart.  They had to open their ears, and listen to these words of joyful anticipation and let them inspire confidence within.

Those images and themes are repeated in the Gospel today.  We see how those prophecies weren’t just to a particular people with specific trials and tribulations.  At the time of the Gospel, while the people of God had come back to Jerusalem, they had a temple again – all of it was a facade of what was and what was meant to be.  God’s people were not meant to be living oppressed lives enslaved, which for all intents and purposes they were…  Those who were supposedly meant to be in service to God – whether it was Jewish Authorities or religious figures like the high priests weren’t supposed to be cooperating with these secular pagan forces:  The Romans who had no love of God, His Word, or His commands.  These religious figures and authorities had made a deal with a devil.  They placated Rome, sold the people out and Rome let them maintain positions of power and authority.  It was a big old mess.  And God’s people were similarly discouraged by the bleakness of the world in which they lived.  Where was there any evidence of God’s reign, the fulfillment of His promises to be found?  Where could God’s people experience joy or peace? 

That’s why I love this passage from the Gospel of Luke.  Luke goes through very specific details HE NAMES NAMES!!   of all the movers and shakers – all the people of power, authority and influence – whether they be Roman, Jewish, of this time to highlight an important pivotal fact. Those looking for signs of God’s reign – Those still awaiting the fulfillment of His promises – those remembering the promises of joy and peace God had made – none of that would come from any of these individuals Luke lists.  None of that could be found in the lofty locales that people would think to look.  Luke says simply and dramatically The word of God came to John, the son of Zechariah in the desert.  Intentionally, God bypasses all the places of influence and sends a prophetic voice calling people who want to encounter the coming of God, telling them how and where to find Him.  John calls the people to stop looking around the world, at others for that encounter.  And instead tells them first they need to look within.  Prepare by repenting and seeking forgiveness of sins.   Then he points out that this is a universal call.   For those who feel abandoned, unwanted, isolated – whether because of illness, or poverty, or oppression – John’s proclaims, God sees and loves you and is coming to fill in those valleys of despair your feeling keeps you away from experiencing this encounter…. For those who had gotten caught up in the things of this world, were desiring things, striving after the fame and prestige of the world, the accolades of mere fellow mortals John’s proclaiming, God sees and loves you and wants to level those mountains – humbling them to recognize they’re not God and need Him too.

This second Sunday of Advent, John the Baptist’s words and message remain the same to us here and now.  It is embarrassing to me to realize that while I would never have said it with my lips, but in some ways my attitudes and behaviors demonstrated that I was looking for prayers to be answered, fulfillment to be found in all the wrong places.  It seems ridiculously obvious, but my true joy is not going to come from any politician.  My peace can not be dependent upon something that does or does not happen in the news.   That’s something that as a Catholic Christian I say I believe – and just detoxing from letting all those voices to the extent I was, helped underscore ways that weren’t being lived out.  What is it for you?  Who are the voices that perhaps have more authority than they should?  What are the habits and behaviors that demonstrate what is a priority that shouldn’t be?  What sins need repenting?  What valleys need to be filled in and mountains leveled?  This second Sunday of Advent John the Baptist confronts us reminding us of God’s arrival.  That Jesus steps into human history – not just 2,000 years ago in a manger – but into our history here and now.  Are we ready to meet Him?  Attentive to His presence?  If there’s some doubt, perhaps we all may find the need for some detoxing of things, voices, influences that are somehow obscuring seeing Him as the only answer to our deepest of cares and worries, both now and for all eternity.