Homily 3rd Sunday Ordinary Time Cycle A January 26, 2020

At this early point, John the Baptist begins to fade into the background of the Gospel story. He performed his duty to perfection; he decreased while Jesus increased; he ended up in Herod’s prison for telling the truth about Herod’s marriage; and not long after, John was martyred for not succumbing to human authority and their ways of wrath, but won the victory for himself where light overcame the darkness he knew. John’s mission was made complete in the love and goodness of the God he served so faithfully. John the Baptist was a true soldier who died a soldier’s death for Christ. In the beginning, John leapt in the womb. At the end, John leapt from Herod’s dungeon to heaven.

               Now, the one who increases is at center stage. Forever. He will remain there, performing this opera called The Gospel for the next three years in public, drawing sellout crowds through his words and miraculous healings.

               At the center of this opera – still running by the way, a 2000-year stint – is the word “Repent.” Repent is not a word to be feared or run away from. We can and will make all sorts of comments as to why “Repent” can be an ugly four-letter word. But it’s a word and reality that brings internal peace, a new beginning, a centering of one’s path in life, a direction that follows John the Baptist to heaven and life eternal.

               As the Lord increases and John decreases, as Christ enters center stage, staying there until he returns in glory, we carry on a twofold personal responsibility before the Increaser; first, to continually seek his repentance when needed so that his light may overcome our darkness. And second, that Christ remain at the center of our daily living. Especially when darkness is creeping up on us, or performs a nosedive into the light of our souls. Be it disease or illness, addiction, or one of the thousand ways the human body will suffer.

               First, ‘Repent.” Or in the words of Jesus, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” That’s Jesus’ way of saying, “You are now looking at God in Person.” Repentance on its own is a frightful word. What the Lord does so mercifully is that he offers us the best reasons why we seek repentance. That repentance has positive reasons why it should be a continuous mindset for us. 

               I love it when people reveal how they say an Act of Contrition each night before they fall asleep. Is it a perfect Act of Contrition? It may be; it may not be. Only God knows that answer. But the person who prays an Act of Contrition each night, not knowing if they will still be in this world when the sun rises, that person’s heart is in a very good place with our Redeemer. Perfect or imperfect, the intention and humility are present.

               But we don’t miss the reason why we seek repentance; “For the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” In other words, the light of Christ has – and continues to – overcome the darkness. His light is at hand. We don’t live like his light is not at hand. You have the light of Christ in your little Christian kingdom. And when that light begins to fade because of our choices, then “Repent.” Repentance returns light into our souls. And it doesn’t cost anything. It re-centers us for God’s work. And, it overcomes the darkness of the evil one who seeks to destroy us.

               The second part of our twofold responsibility before the Increaser is the gate that John the Baptist leapt through after Herod ordered him to be dispatched. That he, the Increaser, remains at the center of our lives. That’s a solid gate for entering heaven one day.

               We all have faith in Christ. If not, we wouldn’t be here. Even if there are present struggles, we still have faith in him. For some of us, our faith in him grows deeper because of our struggles. Still, we may be a little angry, a little mad, uncertain, or even feel ourselves losing the good grip of faith. But you’re not going to lose it. Are you going to become an atheist by dinner time? Allow yourself a most beautiful truth; that we have been blessed with the gift of faith.

               Our faith in Christ will be tested in a thousand different ways along the way. Even the Apostles were unsure at times, but they stayed with the Increaser. Except for one of them; the purse-stealer who went his own way.

               But we come to understand how the journey of faith increases over time, beginning with the call of Peter & Andrew, James & John. They leave their boats immediately, because they trust the power of the word who called them. The same One who has called us. Over time, there will be mishaps, some dumb statements by Peter and others, some running away, some questioning his authority, some telling him he will not carry a cross. They get in the way of God’s will for us. 

               But they last. They keep him at the center through their own repentance. And in the end, they have the faith of a Saint, which they become. And I suspect that more than a few of you good people have the faith of a Saint after many mishaps.

               John the Baptist is removed from the scene, replaced by the Increaser. John lived his calling to perfection. But now Jesus is on stage. In our personal lives, our communities, our nation, and our world. Through your faith, allow his light to overcome the darkness through you. You are the land of Zebulon, the land of Naphtali, the way to the sea. You are the way to the Light that has arisen.

Homily The Baptism of the Lord Cycle A January 12, 2020

We constantly throughout our lives need the reminder that we do not live in the darkness. That we live in the light of Christ. With the threat of war constant in the Middle East, the land of The Prince of Peace, being an incredible irony; with the constant barrage of out of control politics streaming from the nation’s capital – whatever side you happen to be on; with 24-hour Cable News shoving their many crude, hate-filled, slanted opinions down your throat, trying to invade your Christian heart, whatever side you happen to be on; and, the continuous natural disasters that absorb the earth since the time of The Flood in Genesis, when Noah was the only righteous person…

We are in constant need of allowing ourselves to be reminded that we are not to live in the darkness, but that we live in the light of Christ. And whatever Tom Brady decides, we’ll get over it.

The Baptism of the Lord is a day in the history of our world where light has destroyed, again, the darkness brought on by the disobedience in the Garden of Paradise. And to think the light of this day almost didn’t happen because John the Baptist first said no.

Jesus knew what he wanted. Just like parents bringing their infant children to the Church to be baptized. They know what they want. Whether parents fully understand the theology of Baptism or not, they know this much; they want their child to live, not in the darkness of the world they grow up in , but in the light of Christ that has the power and grace to overcome the darkness their children will certainly encounter. Parents know how much they love their children, and to what degree they will protect them from the zaniness and darkness of Cable News and the like.

Jesus got it. He got the picture. He knew he wanted John to baptize him to fulfill all righteousness. The righteousness of the light of heaven conquering the darkness of H-E- Double Hockey Sticks. Hades. Way Down Below. Whatever you want to call it. There are many names for the bad stuff. But there’s one word for the today’s light: Baptism.  

John the Baptist, the guy who refused no one who came to him at the River Jordan, the guy who turned away no one who approached him in good conscience, was ready to refuse Jesus the Baptism he sought. But Jesus overpowered – very gently – the uncertainty of John. It’s likely the only time in his life John the Baptist was confused. He must have been watching too much Cable News that day, whatever side he was on. We know for certain that John was on the side of doing God’s will.

As with all things with Christ, the Baptism of the Lord benefits not himself, but all of us with faith. And potentially those too without faith, to come to faith in the Son of God. Faith that the light overcomes the darkness we experience, all the way to the darkness of death. And the benefit from Jesus’ baptism is nothing less than our joy being made complete in the everlasting Paradise, not the one Adam & Eve foiled. God’s Paradise is Paradise. With all the banquets and feasts. With all that is good and beautiful. Where no Cable News is allowed.

Christ is a light for the nations for those who live in darkness. He is a light for the individual, for the community of believers, conquering the darkness we encounter, notably the darkness of sin and death. Our Lord’s Baptism happens not to defeat evil worldly forces alone. As much as we want for the goodness of God to intervene loudly and wipe it all away, our Lord’s Baptism overpowers the spiritual forces that drag us down.

Jesus fulfilling all righteousness from his Baptism is an invitation to take him by the hand and allow ourselves to be led to the better side of our humanity. Or as Lincoln said in his first Inaugural, to “the better angels of our nature.”

Parents bring their children to be baptized so their beautiful children may live and know the better angels of their nature. We love that light. We love such innocence. That they live in the fulfillment of the Lord’s righteousness. We’ve been baptized into this heavenly nature. May our lives reflect that great truth of how the Spirit once touched us in a way that has left an indelible mark on our souls.

And to think that John the Baptist tried to prevent the Lord’s Baptism because of his awareness of being unworthy to perform the act Jesus wanted. But the Lord carried John to the place where he wanted him, right there in the River. And he will also carry us to where we belong, in his light that overcomes the darkness.       

Homily 2nd Sunday Ordinary Time Cycle A January 19, 2020

John the Baptist knew an awful lot about Jesus for having met him just once. Well, actually twice. The first meeting was Mary visiting Elizabeth when pregnant, and John somehow knowing at this pre-born age that the Lamb of God was in his presence in the belly of Mary his mother. The first meeting between John and Jesus caused John to leap for joy, do a high-five, spike the football, and hit a grand slam all in one play.

               How could John know of Jesus’ presence so early, while he hid in the safety net of his own mother’s womb? Only through the power and great mystery of the Holy Spirit that filled both children and mothers could a pre-born child acknowledge the presence of the Messiah before him. That’s a world of holiness we don’t quite understand, but a joy that awaits us.

               The second meeting came about 30 years after the leaping incident. By this time, the souls of John’s parents, Elizabeth and Zechariah, went off to the holding cell; the place where the souls of the just waited for the resurrection of Jesus to officially open the doors of heaven forever and ever. And St. Joseph too, we believe had entered eternal life. Much will change in 30 years’ time.

               The second meeting was celebrated last week when John, again, recognized the Holy One of God walking toward him at the Jordan River. The proof of John’s recognition of Jesus was John’s initial refusal to baptize Jesus. It was a most humble act by John, accompanied by the words, “You’re the one who should be baptizing me, the Baptizer.” We all know how that went down. Jesus went down in the water, baptized by John to fulfill all righteousness. Jesus won again, as usual. Even when he dies, he wins. And in that truth lies our hope.

               But here we are at the third meeting of John and Jesus not long after the Lord’s Baptism. And John gives us words, again, that place the entirety of our relationship with Christ into perspective; “A man is coming after me who ranks ahead of me because he existed before me.”

               John was not fooled by anyone he met. And he didn’t subscribe to anyone’s political party because they don’t want someone who is filled with the Holy Spirit and truth. Yet, here’s John folding up like a lawn chair, and melting like a grilled cheese on a hot stove, in the presence of his own relative, Jesus of Nazareth. When’s the last time we spoke about a relative the way John spoke about Jesus? That they ranked ahead of us, because they existed before us? Have you ever said such words about an elder sibling or cousin? I have plenty of them, and I never said that! And I never will!

               But John the Baptist did. He folded up like a glove; “I must decrease, he must increase.” John melted all his holiness, in fact, his entire life, right into the hand of Jesus. After just three meetings, one of them in the womb, he knew all this information about Christ.

               “The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” Not only sins, personal sins, which he does blot out. But, “the sin of the world.” The singular sin, of disobedience in the Garden. Conquered by the Divine and human perfection of obedience in Jesus of Nazareth.

               How did John know such things, such truths about Jesus from two meetings in person, and one meeting in the womb 30 years before? Such knowledge is possible only in the mystery of God’s wonder and the Spirit’s power to infuse into John such wisdom in such limited time. It takes spouses years to know the deepest part of each other. The same with relatives and friends. But John knew things about Jesus that only Jesus’ mother knew. And she raised him and lived with him for 30 years. It’s no wonder Jesus says, “There is no one born of woman greater than John the Baptist.”

               John introduces us to our Savior in ways that no one else does in the Scriptures. John didn’t know half of what Mary knew about her Son. Gabriel came to her. Gabriel, who stands before God, didn’t come to John. Gabriel did come to John’s father Zechariah, and then shut him up for 9 months for wrongly questioning heaven’s personal message.

               But only John gives to the world a unique perspective on the Person of Jesus: “The Lamb of God;” “He ranks ahead of me;” “He existed before me.” Not in the womb, but from all eternity he existed. That’s what John knows about Jesus.

               Our faith lives, our Catholic faith lives, rightly have holy devotion to the Mother of God. If she is not an integral part of our personal relationship with Jesus, then we are placing aside the aorta valve that leads to the heart of Christ her Son. She’s the number one artery that pumps our blood into the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

               With that said, John the Baptist has an artery that also leads to the heart of Jesus. It’s not the aorta, the most important artery. But it’s an artery nonetheless. One that our Catholic lives of faith and prayer do well to include. It’s the Lamb of God artery; the Ranking Ahead of Me artery; the One Who Existed Before Me artery.

               Incorporating these images of Jesus into our spiritual lives of faith and prayer will only deepen our knowledge and understanding of Christ our Lord. And the Source of such knowledge is the Spirit touching the holiness of John in mysterious ways, speaking truths about Jesus that draw us into a deeper communion with our Savior.       

Homily Feast of the Epiphany Cycle A January 5, 2020

They traveled a great distance to help seal the deal. The “deal” began in the mind of God, if you will, reaching its fulfillment in the birth of Jesus. The “deal” was necessary after the calamity in the Garden of Eden, when Adam and his wife Eve messed up the previous deal called Paradise. A New Deal was needed after the garden fracas, and it didn’t come from Franklin Delano Roosevelt. This new deal came down from above in the birth of a child in Bethlehem from the Virgin’s womb.

               After this event was completed in a manger full of animals as the first worshippers, eventually being joined by some area shepherds told by an angel to go worship the child and tell what they saw, the next part of the story came from faraway visitors. The unexpected visitors.

               The shepherds were local Jewish shepherds. They watched their sheep all year, their one break from their labor being a short walk from their Bethlehem flocks to the Passover feast in Jerusalem.  The shepherds were of Israelite stock. Of the Chosen People. And they were nearby to all these happenings.

But the three who we cue in on today travel a great distance. They huff and puff it across the desert to seal the deal for the rest of humanity. Their trip across the highs and lows of barren land, sandstorms, as well as the heat of day and cool of night, finds at the end, not a refusal, but a welcome. Jesus came for the house of Israel, as he clearly says in the Gospel. “I have come for lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But there were a handful of non-Israelites along the way who caused the Lord to marvel at their faith in him. And the first Gentiles to show such faith, the first non-Israelites to marvel at this birthday present come down from heaven, were the Magi.

The Three Wise Guys, filled with untold amounts of wisdom, sealed the deal for the rest of us non-Israelites. Their efforts and determination to make it to their goal in Bethlehem, despite the deception of Herod – that was Herod being Herod – to prostrate themselves before this child, and their subsequent welcome by the child’s parents, these were efforts that went way beyond normal expectations under the circumstances.    

By sealing the deal of completing the mission they set out to perform, knowing ahead there would be obstacles they couldn’t predict, similar to our present journey, we rejoice in their successful mission. We rejoice in their Apollo 11. They were the first Gentiles to land on the moon of salvation. And we all benefit from their heroic flight.

The Feast of the Epiphany is a humble reminder each year that at one time we were outside the gates that lead to life beyond the grave. There was a large sign on the gate that said, “Gentiles need not apply.”

As Jesus himself knocked down some walls in his public ministry, such as curing on the Sabbath, talking to a Samaritan woman at a famous well, appearing on Easter Sunday first to Mary Magdalene and not his own Apostles, which would come later. As the Lord formed and shaped the world to God’s liking by way of mercy, moving the bad elements out of the way to make room for all that is good, so too have the Magi barreled through the storms of the desert and through the halls of Herod to seal the deal that has made us coheirs with Jesus, members of the same body, copartners in the promise of Christ through the gospel.

We now own the Gospel. The Good News. As Catholics who were once Gentiles; us Catholics who were once on the outside of this great story looking in; us Catholics who used to worship pagan idols of bronze, silver, and gold; us Catholics who used to worship our own bodies in sinful ways that this present culture sadly returns to, we are now inside the gates.

Please don’t take it for granted that we have entered through the gate of salvation. Rather, bring our Christian faith to every phase of our lives. Allow it to address every part of your life. Because those Three Wise Men went through heck and high water – or high sand dunes – to seal the deal that makes us coheirs with the Savior of the World. Their sealing of the deal, this trip across the plains, has ensured we will share life eternal with our loved ones. Their trip results in nothing less.

For the birth of our Lord in 2019, may we offer to him our own gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Gold is love, frankincense is peace, myrrh is mercy. In the spirit of the Magi coming to worship the newborn King, we bring these virtues to others, because we are now inside the gates of Jesus Christ.     

SCHEDULE OF CHRISTMAS MASSES, 2019

Our Parish will hold 2 Christmas Masses: Christmas Eve, December 24 at 4:00 p.m., and Christmas Day at 9:00 a.m. We wish all parishioners and those visiting from other places a Merry Christmas. May God’s abundant blessings be upon you and your families during this holy season and throughout the New Year.

Homily 4th Sunday of Advent Cycle A December 22, 2019

We all embrace a pleasant greeting, unless we’re Ebenezer Scrooge. “Good morning, Ma’am. Good morning, sir. Thank you for holding the door for me, even if it’s an automatic door. The intention was good. Have a great day (that’s a popular one!). May your day be blessed.” There’s much to be said for pleasant greetings, in contrast to greetings grounded in Bah Humbug.

               On the cusp of Christmas just a few days hence, our readings on the 4th and final Sunday of Advent lead us to greetings. Both human greetings, which can go either way, and divine greetings, which go one way, always in our favor, with Jesus having been raised from the dead.

               “The Lord spoke to Ahaz;” a divine greeting. “Ask for a sign, Ahaz. Make it deep as the netherworld. The large underground world where souls waited for the Risen Jesus to come and rescue them. Ahaz, make your sign as high as the sky. Don’t hold back.” That’s quite a greeting from the Lord to the mere mortal Ahaz. If the Lord greeted us personally, “Ask for a sign as big as you can imagine, a sign that will remove all doubt in our hearts and minds that God is not only close, but that your life is everlasting, could you request a sign big enough?”

               Ahaz doesn’t accept the Lord’s greeting. “I’m too insignificant to ask for a sign. Why does he want one from me?” is the human response to this Divine greeting. This greeting had much potential, until Ahaz said, “Oh no, I can’t do that. I cannot tempt my God. I will not!” So, the Lord’s greeting bypasses Ahaz, landing on the lap of the Prophet Isaiah, who will answer, “The Lord himself will give you a sign; the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel.” The divine greeting that began with Ahaz ended with Isaiah. And it was all good, despite the fear of Ahaz. Don’t push away your divine greetings.

               And then we have Paul’s human greeting to the Christian community in Rome, beginning with, “Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus.” How’s that for a greeting! When’s the last time we greeted someone with the words, “I’m Fr. Riley, slave of Christ Jesus. Nice to meet you.” Wouldn’t we like to extend such a greeting to some relatives or friends who have lost their way with Christ Jesus? I believe that would capture their attention. Or, the deeply personal question to ourselves, “Are you, Fr. Riley, a slave for Christ Jesus?” Translated, “Are you living in the freedom he offers your life by being his slave, his disciple, and not a slave of the world?”

               Paul’s human greeting is strong, attention-getting, in those few words to the Roman community of early Christians. Paul’s greeting is the penultimate greeting that we can extend to another person or community. A slave of Christ Jesus is the deepest sign, the netherworld-type of greeting that we can extend. It removes all doubt as to who we are close, and to who or what we worship. It’s the perfect set-up greeting a few days before his impending birth.

               And, speak of removing all doubt, poor Joseph, like John the Baptist last week in prison wanting to know if Jesus was the one to come, Joseph is filled with doubt concerning his relationship with Mary. His love for Mary never lessens. Joseph loves Mary with all his heart, his soul, his mind, and his strength. He sees her perfect beauty both inside and out. She is God’s perfect creature. The only creature created to perfection. But Joseph in his heart believes he spies an imperfection in Mary. Hmm, does he know something God doesn’t about Mary? Many people think they do. Joseph doesn’t know how it happened. His eyes do not deceive him. She’s pregnant, and he’s not the father. “You got that right bother!” Time to divorce her quietly. Why quietly? Why divorce Mary in the silence of the night? Because, he loves her unconditionally, and Joseph does not want the community of judges to judge her harshly by stoning her. “Time for another greeting,” says the Lord. 

               “Gabriel, go down and speak with Joseph. Please tell him this is all my doing. This is my plan from the beginning of time. My plan to bring my people from the netherworld, from depths unknown to the human mind. My plan that will raise them up so that they may be together forever in my presence and each other’s loving presence. Hurry Gabriel. Go forth and tell Joseph he needs to stay the Divine Plan of Redemption. Greet Joseph in his dream and tell the righteous man to hold fast and hold Mary by the hand. Tell him to be her husband for life and enjoy the beauty of her presence and companionship. Go Gabriel!”

               The 3rd greeting on this 4th Sunday of Advent initiated by God personally, is the greeting that saves the day. It saves Christmas Day. “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. Do not separate from her. Do not distance yourself from her. It’s through the Spirit – the Holy Spirit – that this child has been conceived in her. She is pregnant through the power of the Author of all Life. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

               This Divine greeting saves the day, the world, and all creation. It’s probably a good thing Joseph didn’t know all this was somehow dependent upon his decision to take Mary his wife into his home, rather than divorce her, quietly or otherwise. It’s a good thing he lacked certain knowledge about these events.

               But we don’t lack such knowledge in hindsight. Like Joseph, we embrace the 3rd greeting on the 4th Sunday of Advent, as we prepare for the greatest greeting of all time in an obscure manger in Bethlehem.

Homily 3rd Sunday of Advent Cycle A December 15, 2019

Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?”

               We’re all here because we know in our hearts that he is the One to come, and if we look for another, we’re looking in some place of darkness.

               Jesus is explicit in his words that were proclaimed in a Gospel this past week when he said, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.” Even those who raise families; those of us who work all sorts of overtime like a UPS driver at this time of year; all you run around throughout the day trying to accomplish this, that, and everything else; and those who sit back in later years without thinking about our final destination quickly arriving. Rest in Jesus through your faith and good works. Because, he is the one to come, and don’t dare go looking for another.

               Poor John the Baptist finds himself in Herod’s dungeon in this Gospel. All for telling Herod the truth about his ungodly marriage. We see where the truth might get us against worldly forces who don’t like hearing God’s teaching. Anyway, there the Baptist sits below the earth, being cared for and waited on by his disciples. And this image of John in prison is useful for us, less than a couple weeks away from the birth of Christ. How so, you may ask?

We are to never grow tired of preparing for our Savior’s birth. Because prior to his birth, we too were in prison. We were locked up, underground, in the Netherworld, in the prison of our souls, with no hope of freeing ourselves from the wages of sin and death.

               Except unlike John, who remains in prison, and dies in prison, we anticipate in the birth of our Lord to be set free. We have been set free. We didn’t sneak out of prison; we didn’t escape; we didn’t have to dig any tunnels, climb barbed wire fences, run past any guards, or hide in any forest. We sat there in prison, right about this time, waiting for the answer to the question, “Are you the one to come? Are you the one who is to open this dirty dungeon door where we are imprisoned in all our spiritual misery, and set us free into your Divine mercy and love? Or, should we look for another? Should we choose another? Should we hope that Herod will have a change of heart and decide to let us go?”

               From those two options, one option is pure love and truth. The other option is pure hatred, evil, and lies. The first option blows up the entire dungeon without doing us harm. The first option of love and truth, of breaking free from the dungeon built by Beelzebul with some help from Adam and Eve; the first option is standing at the gate. And he’s judging we don’t belong in there. He loves us too much to stand there and watch us melting away like a POW. He must open that chained gate. And not just open it, but shatter it to pieces. And what breaks that prison door to smithereens, is his birth. The Word becoming flesh. Making his dwelling among us. Not in a prison, but in the freedom of his love and mercy.  

               We, my friends, have no business walking back into that prison. Yet, many do. Making decisions in their lives like his birth never happened. So tied up in the world of bad relationships, the world of greed, the world of politics being their false god, the world of materialism and individualism. They walk right back into the prison, sit next to John the Baptist, awaiting their spiritual execution. The people who look for another.

               That’s not us. We’re about to be set free, again, for the 2019th time since his original birth in a stable. We prepare, again and again, for the birth of our Savior for the proper and correct reasons. The kids receiving toys are nice. A white Christmas is nice; Bing Crosby thinks so. Company profits for this season are nice; the one and only reason for the profits being the birth of Jesus Christ. But these, and much more, are mere distractions from the proper meaning of why it’s essential to prepare for his birth.

               His birth is a celebration of our being released from the prison of sin and death, knowing we had no power to release ourselves from such torment. But there we are, sitting in prison, conversing with John, asking the same question as John, “Are you the one to come, or should we look for another?” In other words, “Are you going to accept his free Christmas gift of being set free, or, are we going to stay with John and be executed by the forces of evil?”

               The Judge is standing at the gate. He can see right into your cell, your dungeon. He’s going to open that wretched door for you. That ugly gate. But, it’s our decision as to whether we walk out into his merciful life, or stay in there with death and its misery. Staying in there means we live like he was never born. Walking out is to celebrate his upcoming birth, again. 

Homily 2nd Sunday of Advent Cycle A December 8, 2019

It could certainly be classified or called a confrontation. Sometimes, not always, a confrontation is sought by two sides. One side is usually more aggressive, initially, than the other side. Very rarely do two sides run into the center of a battlefield and seek to destroy one another. You see that only in video games. One side is usually on defense. It’s one side that initiates, while the other side reciprocates and responds to the attack.

               The confrontation, if you will, on this 2nd Sunday of the Peaceful Season of Advent, is between a group and one man. Which seems lopsided. The group consists of both the secular and religious leaders uniting to form one group. They are the Pharisees and Sadducees. And the one man, of course, is John the Baptist. And with the tone of John the Baptist, beginning with “You brood of vipers,” it appears the Baptist strikes the first blow in this battle of religious ways. Whose version of God is truer?  

               For that’s at the heart of this slightly heated discussion. This meeting of a group and one strangely clad Preacher is not husband and wife material. Like, “Are you gonna take the dog out before he goes to the bathroom on the new rug?” Or, “Honey, why did you talk to my mother that way?” Hopefully there’s some forgiveness before sleep that night.

               No, John the Baptist and this group of influential 1st century leaders in Palestine is not relational stuff between each other. It would be nice if they got along swimmingly. But getting along forever and always, every day of the year, ended when Adam and Eve ate the unforbidden fruit.

               Instead, this confrontation concerns “Who is God? What is he like? What does he want? What does he give to us? What do we believe about him and how do we relate to him?” And, not least, “How do we understand and accept his love for us?” This confrontation between the Baptist and this group concerns the most important topic of, “What is the true way of relating to the Lord, preparing for the Lord’s coming, and accepting his many graces?”

               Without trying to easily shove aside the opposition here, the Pharisees and Sadducees are like those today who believe they know perfectly what God wants. But they miss the mark because of staunch rules, regulations, and extreme rigidity. They block themselves in religiously. They create their own barrier against God, and such barriers prevent this group from reaching their true leadership potential.

               Imagine, as a parent or grandparent, having so many rules and regulations, and such rigid rigidity towards a child where they can hardly breathe? Or they’re afraid to breathe in the wrong direction? The intention may be good, but the process destroys. Imagine a student getting a 98 on a math test and the parent’s response is, “You could have done better!”

               On the flip side, by no means do we allow the inmates to run the prison. Children are not administrators of their own lives. And human beings do not run heaven. We need good direction. And that good religious direction comes from John the Baptist. The Baptist is the perfect administrator. John doesn’t smother us with the things of God. He knows he is unworthy to untie the sandals of the One coming after him. As we prepare for the event in Bethlehem that changes all creation for the better, where all life is touched by his birth, our Lord comes to us by way of the truest freedom possible. Human freedom is taken away only by governments and groups, not by God.

               The Baptist proclaims, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” He does not follow that up with, “If you don’t repent, I will seek your death.” John blesses us in a twofold way; that our relationship with Christ is grounded in freedom. We can accept or reject. Or anywhere in between, such as lukewarm. And second, John blesses us with this perpetual truth, which is “Repent.” Whether we are close to Jesus or far away from him, the message remains the same. ‘Repent, because God’s kingdom is now at hand in the Messiah’s upcoming birth.” Meaning, that kingdom is now within you. Meaning, we have the capacity to represent God with truth and accuracy in our daily lives, starting with “Repent.”

               John’s one word “Repent,” for those who choose to accept this spiritual assignment, will take the bad fruit that Adam & Eve consumed sinfully, and spit it back out. By spitting out the horrible tasting fruit, which all sin is, and accepting “Repent” into our mouths, then your life becomes a free statement that says, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

               As good as the Pharisees and Sadducees could be in some respects, they could never take us to the spiritual plane of who God is, what is he like, what does he want from us, and what does he freely offer us. We are not a brood of vipers. We are not poisonous snakes. We are Christians. We are followers of Christ who fully accept what God has placed before us in our faith.

               But to set our lives on the proper path throughout our days and years, John the Baptist is the one who sets us on the Godly path, the path of good fruit, with the word “Repent.” He wins this confrontation by a mile. Many Godly words and actions flow from the one word “Repent,”, as we prepare again for the first coming of Christ.

Homily 1st Sunday of Advent Cycle A December 1, 2019

“One will be taken, the other will be left. Therefore, stay awake!”

               As we begin a new Church Year and a new Season of Advent, we move forward I pray with the hope that we are the one who will be taken. That doesn’t sound good on the surface. It begs the question, does “being taken” mean that during this season of preparation for the Lord’s birth that we should expect over the next few weeks we’re going to die from this world and come to see Jesus? Is this the sort of “being taken” that Jesus refers to in this gathering with his disciples? The answer is no.

               If we die over the next few weeks, it will not happen because one was taken, and another was left. Interestingly, that’s how one firefighter presently feels; that one was taken a couple weeks ago, and he, the other one, was left. He now lives with that for the remainder of his life. Many soldiers have carried within them the same thought; why were they not taken while the soldier next to them, out in the field or grinding at the mill, was taken. That’s been a hard reality that many have had to live with, be it during war or some other tragic circumstance.

               The way Jesus teaches about being taken on this 1st Sunday of Advent is presented in a way that we hope to be taken. His teaching does not refer to one person dying while another close by lives. He refers to his Second Coming, and the one who is taken is in fact the blessed one, the saved one. The one who now enjoys the banquet of eternal life in company with the Saints. While the one left behind is the one condemned. The one wailing and grinding their teeth because the Just Judge made his just judgment and determined they were not worthy of heaven for whatever the sinful reasons would be.

               On this 1st Sunday of Advent, the Lord speaks eternal language. The being taken or left behind refers to the Resurrection of the righteous, or the condemned. It’s hard for us to believe in today’s overall religious thinking, that God would condemn anyone he presently loves unconditionally. But love is always connected to free will. And love is a 2-way street, as we know in any relationship. It’s no different with God and us. I believe St. John Newman said it best: “If you don’t like heaven now, you won’t like it later.”

               And, the staying awake words of Jesus refer to, in this season of grace, the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Confession is like a large bucket of cold water poured on your head on a steaming hot day. This Sacrament wakes us up spiritually. And keeps us awake! It makes us alive again. It gives us spiritual energy. If we wish to roll the dice on staying awake or falling asleep, receiving the Sacrament or bypassing it, then our free will allows us the dice roll. Contrarily, reception of the Sacrament of Confession is an internal fire that keeps us awake even when we’re sleeping, when the evil one tries to work on us. The Sacrament keeps us in right relationship with God.

               Advent is a season of beating swords into plowshares, and spears into pruning hooks. It’s a season of emphasizing peace, preparing for the Prince of Peace. Being peace; sharing peace; wanting peace; loving peace. It’s a season of rejecting violence in all its forms and disparaging looks. Violence has an ugly face. Peace has a beautiful face.

               Swords into plowshares, and spears into pruning hooks are images of turning our internal wars and weapons into works of mercy. It’s an image of change and constant conversion. And that’s where Confession enters and invites us in.

Swords into plowshares; prepare the fertile ground of our souls for the good crop of Jesus Christ. That’s what it means. Our internal ground is already fertile because of God’s grace and presence of the Spirit. Our Baptism made that possible.

Spears into pruning hooks; bend the end of that weapon. Make it a hook that picks fruit off the tree of Christ. The fruits of love, mercy, and forgiveness. The fruits of compassion, visitation, and prayer. His tree is loaded with good fruit. It’s better to use God’s pruning hook that to use the Devil’s pitchfork.

And why stay awake? Why avoid sitting back, motionless, and allowing this quick, holy season to pass without change or conversion? Because, “the night is advanced, the day is at hand.” That certainly is true for many of us. The night of our lives is advanced. Be rid of any thought we are going to live forever. We are going to live forever. Up or down. But it won’t be on this side of the grave.

So please don’t sit back and allow the Season of Advent to pass without doing something to deepen our love for God and neighbor, preparing for the birth of Jesus. We have a Christmas Giving Tree; we have a collection for the Retired Religious; we have an Advent Concert; we have online shopping and those who still enjoy the hustle and bustle of walking through stores.

But the truest meaning of the Season of Advent is to stay awake. The way to stay awake in our faith is the Sacrament where God’s forgiveness and mercy is total and certain. It ensures we will be taken, and not left behind at the grinding mill.