(12/07/08) Friends all, in Advent season, we find ourselves sharing the joy of those who anticipate giving and receiving Christmas gifts and welcoming those who are dear to us. We experience ourselves in loving watch with those who
approach their first Christmas holiday without a loved one. We keep watch as well with those whom we try to help: those women and men who are anxiously concerned about how they will pay for the gifts that they long to give, the food that they want to serve.
Our readings from the Word of the Lord today encourage us to ask for the grace to deepen our heats in faithful, watchful waiting. For what do we wait?
Advent is not a time of waiting for a Christ child to be born. There is no longer a child Jesus. There was a child Jesus. That blessed event happened once when the Word became flesh and was born in a cattle trough. It cannot happen
again. During Advent and Christmas we look down at a crib and look up to a cross. . . grateful to the only One who in his love for us fills the emptiness which is always at the roots of who we are. We listen watchfully for the silent footsteps of Jesus, the
Hound of Heaven who is ever with us. And especially do we await the kingdom of God in all its fullness- the kingdom which is the goal and the horizon of our Christian hope. Only God the Father knows when this glorious manifestation of his Son will take place.
In the meantime before the end-time, we remain a people of optimism because of the crucified-risen Christ who vanquished evil at its roots. Imagine that we are standing near a pool whose scummy surface brims with the evils that we
experience in our culture today. Despite what we see, we believe that a spring of fresh water is hidden under the surface of that pool. That fresh water stands for the undoing of evil, the undoing of death-the victory that the crucified-risen Jesus won for
us. It is up to us, as disciples of Jesus by our baptism to get not merely to get our hands wet, but at times to plunge right in and bring that fresh water up to the surface. Our hope and fundamental optimism remain grounded in what Jesus, our Lord and
brother, has done for us. We experience that same glimpse of "God's Grandeur" even in a single line from Gerard Manley Hopkins, outstanding Jesuit poet of the Victorian Age. Hopkins writes:
"There lives the dearest freshness, deep, down things"
"There lives the dearest freshness, deep, down things"
Today, friends, in the proclaimed Word of the Lord, we listen prayerfully to two voices crying out to us. Isaiah, eight centuries before Jesus-pleads with his fellow Israelites and to us to smooth out the rugged landscape of our lives.
Isaiah, whose Old Testament book is sometimes called the "fifth gospel", encourages us to freshen ourselves and focus on the Lord Adonai who always comes to us like a gentle shepherd -a shepherd who constantly invites us to confront and challenge the social
evils that surround us.
Another voice sounds out to us as we join the throngs gathered in the desert of Judea side to listen to a strange young man who is most unusual in his dress and diet. John the Baptist demands that we move away from our own
self-centeredness and direct our energies to the person and message of Jesus of Nazareth. Forgiveness of sins is present for those who wash themselves in the grace of God's love in Jesus and start anew again as disciples of Jesus.
The disciple who always assist us and serves as our own model in growing as disciples of Jesus is the major disciple of Jesus, Mary of Nazareth, his mother. Tomorrow we celebrate her special feast: the Immaculate Conception.
From Bethlehem and Nazareth to Calvary and beyond -- Mary had no complete God-given scenario - no divine script in her hands. Mary as a teenage maiden and as a married woman and mother deeply believed. She still was puzzled and had to
ask herself what each major incident that took place in her life might possibly mean: What does it mean for a maiden to conceive a child without benefit of a man? To give birth to the "Son of the Most High" in a feeding trough? To flee with young Joseph her
hero-husband as immigrant-refugees to Egypt? In faith she listened to the Word of the Lord , was puzzled by it, meditated on it in her heart, and acted on it.
St. Luke in his wondrous artistry paints gripping scenes for us. Through the angelic messenger Mary had accepted the Word of the Lord that Elizabeth was "now in her sixth month of pregnancy." (Luke 1:26) She now acted on that Word.
With God's Son in her body she walked in the hill country to a town almost seventy miles away to help Elizabeth, her kinswoman, during the remaining three months of her own pregnancy. Mary's meditative heart had led her to action. May our prayer lead us to
Luke portrays another memorable scene. During the time of their annual Pilgrimage to the Temple, Mary and her husband, Joseph lost traces of their child. When they finally found their run-a-way boy in the Temple, she scolded him: "Why
have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety." (Luke 2:48) She and Joseph simply did not understand what their son meant when he replied: "Why were you looking for me? Did you not realize that I had to be in my
Father's house?" Mary needed to continue to meditate in her heart on the Word she had heard. ( Luke 2:51) )
A later scene from St. Luke's gospel describes a day in Jesus' ministry. While he was speaking to the crowd, a woman cried out: "Blessed is the womb that carried you and the breasts at which you nursed." Jesus responded: "Even more
blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and observe it." (Luke 11:27-28) We wonder at Mary's reaction. Three centuries later Saint Augustine wrote: "Mary's relationship to Jesus as his mother would have been no use to her unless she carried Christ
more happily in her heart than she bore him in her body." Luke in his gospel praises Mary not simply because she gave birth to Jesus, but because she listened to God's word, believed in it and acted upon it. Mary was the major disciple of Jesus.
God in his quiet passionate love for you and me is constantly speaking to us-not only through commandments and beatitudes, but through his staggering love for us which he has inscribed in our hearts; not only through the wonderful
teachings of our Church, but through the sad and even empty eyes of anyone who suffers as a victim, be that person across the table or across an ocean. He speaks to us not only through his Word as we hear it proclaimed in Church or as we silently pray that
Word of the Lord in our private scripture reading. You and I hear that same Word of the Lord in the wordless pleas of those who are close to birth and close to death, in the torn heart of anyone who needs our love. We need must respond. Mary guides us in the
very words she spoke to the servants at Cana, when the wine at run out: "Do whatever my Son tells you." (John 2:5)
Like Mary, the premier disciple of Jesus, may you and I, disciples of Jesus by our baptism, meditate on his Word, and broadcast his love for ourselves and others by what we do. May we use words if we have to do so. But, for Christ's
sake, may we get on with it and get the barnacles off our Christian bottoms.
Were you and I at a dinner party right now I would encourage you to join to join me in raising your glasses on high in the following toast "tis time to get the barnacles off our Christian bottoms. . . .bottoms up! And away! We dare not
Read other sermons by Father Paul