Rev. Paul V. Redmond
Mount St. Mary's University
(12/14/08) Once in a while, dear friends, you and I experience beautiful moments of inescapable joy -moments that steal our hearts away. . . quiet moments in which we become strikingly aware, even mildly intoxicated that God has somehow touched us with his beauty, his joy. May I share
with you some two striking moments that I experienced in the past few years. A student drove me to a Virginia hospital where a young attorney was dying. As the family and I gathered around his bed we were graced with a sacred, "ending moment" as we all placed our hands on his body in silent prayer. I found
myself experiencing the joy of the Lord present in the midst of our quiet tears. A more recent sacred moment -this time, a "beginning moment" which gripped me as I experienced the quiet joy of a young mother cradling her newborn in speechless love , and the soaring joy of the father- my intimate
friend---cupping his infant son's head in his hand.
Such moments lift out minds and hearts away from the scarring tragedies and other bad news -- from entrenched recession to war - which bombard us from newspaper to Internet. Just when there seems no respite, we catch ourselves and recall the inescapable joy which we have experienced
at different times in our lives. Focus with me now as we gratefully consider the faith that the Lord in his unimaginable love for us has gifted us. Lift up your hearts and let your imagination soar on the gift of joy that each of us has received-a gift that we don't have to wait to unwrap on Christmas eve, a
gift that unfortunately all too many keep secret.
Isaiah, Paul and John invite and challenge us today on "Gaudete Sunday" - - "Rejoicing Sunday" --- to discover or rediscover that gift of joy that God has placed in our hearts.
Joy is not the same as contentment. "Contentment" - being at ease with ourselves comes from what happens to us-as we react to whatever we find pleasant --- smooth relations in our family, the presence of a dear friend; reasonable security in a job. It is great while it lasts. Joy,
however, is a gift that God in his enduring love for us gives to us, our confidence in the Lord's enduring love for us. God never says "Good bye" to us. Any genuine gift is a sign of love. He has given us the gift of his Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the fellowship of the Father and the Son. The scriptures
frequently associate the Holy Spirit with joy.
Joy, a gift of the Holy Spirit, comes into our lives through our being loved by God and our loving Him in return. Joy comes more clearly into our lives by loving others and our being loved by them in return. The evangelist John in his first letter tells us that "God is love" ( 1 John
4:8, 16) and that "love comes from God." (1 John 4: 7) The gift of joy is the expression of that love.
Loneliness, suffering, struggle and sorrow, broken relationships and fractured friendship definitely dampen our spirits, but do not take away the gift of joy -the result of loving and being loved - that is deep within us.
Imagine, friends, a well containing fresh, clean, clear water. If that well and water are to be of use to us and to those whom we serve, we have to bring up that water regularly from the well. We need to share that joy of loving and of being loved - the gift which we have received
from the Holy Spirit with all others who are in need --- be they across the table or across the ocean.
The man named John in speaking to you and me today points out: ". . . there is one among you whom you do not recognize." All too often we fail to recognize Jesus in the many disguises in which he comes to us. That masterful poet of the Victorian Age, the Jesuit Gerard Manley Hopkins
. . . Christ plays in ten thousand places / Lovely in limbs. And
lovely in eyes not his/ To the Father through the features of
Jesus does show his face to us--- the face of God-in many different disguises. Advent is the time to renew our commitment to our daily search to seek his face. In doing so, we need to examine ourselves to see where we need to change, where our parish needs to change. We need, more so
today perhaps more than ever before, to search for ways in which we can reach out in social justice to address the causes of the evils we find in our society. Jesus is the one-in reality, the only one-who can heal our wounded world marked by massacre and mayhem, our wounded, but holy and beloved church,
marred by scandal and incompetence.
It is indeed healthy for you and me in our prayer life to ask for the grace to recognize Jesus in the various people who come into our lives.
In our own growth we realize that we can never know Jesus completely. Even Mary, his mother, and Joseph, his legal father could not do so. Like Mary, Joseph had to mediate in his heart on the Word of the Lord. We wonder, at times, who is Jesus. For Mark, the author of the first
gospel, Jesus is the authoritative teacher, a healer, a miracle worker, and the suffering Messiah. Matthew follows Mark's lead---and for him, Jesus is teacher, healer, miracle worker, and Messiah-but also the one who fulfills the hopes of Israel and the founder of the Church. For Luke, Jesus is the glory of
Israel, the light to the Gentiles, a prophet and a martyr. For John, Jesus is the Word of God, and the Son of God, the one who reveals God to us. Prayerful reading of the Gospels, friends, can deepen in you and me the awareness of who Jesus is for you and me.
Despite our ever increasing knowledge and love of him, we need constantly allow him to grow beyond our understanding of him. He came to be one of us, flesh of our flesh, that he might be with us and for us.-not simply to be a formula that we pray, a creed that we recite. "He became
all that we are --that we might experience him somewhat as we experience the person dearest to us in all the world-to experience him with understanding and passion, with laughter and tears, with anxiety when he seems far from us, with delight when he shows his face again." (Walter Burghardt)
May he help us remove the blinders from the eyes of our hearts. In love for him, for ourselves, and for others may we realize "'tis time to get the barnacles off our Christian bottoms."
Advent is not a time of waiting for a Christ child to be born again. 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. We look back to Bethlehem and become
deeply aware of the staggering mystery of God's becoming skin of our skin. During Advent and Christmas we look down at a crib and then look up to a cross . . . grateful to the crucified-risen One who in his love for us fills the emptiness that is always present at the roots of who we are.
During Advent we listen watchfully to the silent footsteps of Jesus, that Hound of Heaven, who is always with us---though we fail to recognize him. We stand on tiptoes of hope as we wait for the kingdom of God-'the Kingdom, in the words of Pope Benedict. "is Jesus himself" -who is the
goal and horizon of our Christian hope. Only God the Father knows when this glorious manifestation of his Son will take place.
A short story brings my thoughts to closure. "A two story house caught fire. The mother, father, and smaller children were on their way out when the smallest boy became terrified, tore away from his mother and ran back upstairs. Suddenly he appeared at a smoke-filled window. His
father, outside, shouted to him, "Jump, son. Jump! I'll catch you. "The boy cried, "But, daddy, I can't see you.' "I know", his father called. "I know. But I can see you." When the chips are down, friends-especially when Jesus in disguise crosses our path-may we jump in joyful response.
Read other homilies by Father Paul