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FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT – A – December 01,2019

A reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah 2:1-5
A reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans 13:11-14
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew 24:37-44

Dear Friends in Christ,

The years go by as quickly as a wink.  Believe it or not, so does a lifetime.  Both go by in what seems to be a moment when you look back and remember.  It is the height of naivety to think that there will always be a tomorrow in which to do the important things that ought to be done today.  I do not mean to be depressing.  We will not begin our reflections for this new Liturgical Year on a downer.  The opposite is the truth.  If we live in faith, then this is the day the Lord has made.  Let us rejoice and be glad!  On this First Sunday of Advent we are challenged to do it right this time, just in case we did not do it quite that way last year.  Last year is over.  We cannot undo anything we did in it.  We cannot go back and do what we should have done, either.

This Sunday marks a new beginning, a new season in which to hope.

It would be hard to justify saying these are the best of times.  Each day’s news is filled with stories that attest to the opposite.  People are unemployed.  Cities across the land have populations of homeless people living on the streets.  Practically daily there are reports of mass shootings.  There are frequent reports of domestic violence.  Racism.  White supremacists.  Sexism.  Homophobia.  People seeking refuge are caged at our borders and denounced as criminals.  They are separated from their children who also are kept in cages.  Young people raised in this country live in fear of deportation.  Then there are the wars.  And the aftermaths of fires and floods.  It would be easy to conclude that these are the worst of times.  They could be, if we did not have faith.

In the gospel that is proclaimed this Sunday, we will hear Jesus urge us to stay awake!  That might sound ominous.  Given the parable that the Lord tells about how differently the owner of the house would have acted had he known when the thief was coming, we could interpret the reading that way.  But the reality is that the Lord is telling us that we ought to live life in the here and now and be prepared.  We do not want to miss the important event that is happening.

Our history has no shortage of tales of those who did not pay attention to the signs.  Usually the reason they did not notice what was happening around them was because they were preoccupied with themselves.  Jesus speaks of the days of Noah, the one who was open to God and who was surrounded by a people so taken up with eating and drinking that they ignored the signs of the impending flood.  How different the story would have read had they all heeded the signs and prepared for the deluge.

What will be our excuse?  The signs are all about us.  Some will notice and act on them as the Gospel urges us to do.

What are we supposed to be about during this Advent Season?  It is a very busy time for many of us.  The frenetic schedule that many people keep exacerbates the anxiety felt as they hear how few shopping days remain until Christmas.  It is insidious how advertisers link the proof of love with the purchase of expensive items.  Do you love enough to give the very best?

We are moving toward the Feast of Christmas.  The litany of terrible things going on can weigh us down and depress us.  In the Norther Hemisphere, the days get shorter and shorter.  Darkness threatens to envelop us.  These December days can prompt us to despair.  What if the sun does not return this year?  Ridiculous, you say?  Then we should not act as though it will not.

Christmas celebrates the Incarnation; the Word of God takes on the flesh and blood of humankind.  The chasm that separated the two realms has been bridged and the human and Divine have come together in Christ never to be severed again.  Through Christ all things came into being, and apart from him nothing came to be.  Christmas is the day for us to put on Christ, to yield to the reality of faith and live what we believe. When we were baptized, we put on Christ and became identified with Christ.  That identity is so complete that God loves us with the same love God loves Christ.  We bought to believe that and live it.

Take a moment to sit under the Word.  What is this gospel saying to you?  What is the challenge the Spirit invites you to meet?  So many of us are preoccupied with ourselves.  I hate to use the word egomaniacal, but that might not be far from the truth for many.  Even when we are locked in the mindset of how sinful we are, or how weak, or unproductive, untalented or unworthy, that amounts to being locked up in “I”.  If we begin to live the reality of having put on Christ, then that “I” will be liberated.  We will not be so closed in on self.  We will be free then to say Yes to God’s invitation to walk with God in love.  That means we will be able to say yes to living in God in the here and now, where we are and among those with whom we share being.  Then we can begin to love.

It is true that that reality has happened to us.  We were baptized.  The Holy Spirit was poured out on us and has come to live in our hearts.  But that is not enough.  Each of us must make the decision to live the reality, to say yes, Amen, let it be!

I am newly taken with Dietrich Bonhoeffer, having just read a magnificent biography of the great man who was executed in a Nazi prison camp one month before the Liberation.  Here is a quote.  …God today adds his “yes” to your “Yes,” as he confirms your will with his will, and as he allows you, and approves of, your triumph and rejoicing and pride, he makes you at the same time instruments of his will and purpose both for yourselves and for others.  In his unfathomable condescension God does add his “yes” to yours; but by doing so, he creates out of your love something quite new.

To accept the implications of what we say we believe means that we will break down the walls that isolate and segregate us.  There is a reason why we have been called to love.  It is in love that we experience our union in Christ with God.  We gather every Sunday to celebrate Eucharist.  We cannot do that if we are locked in the isolation of self.  Fully, actively, and consciously entering into the celebration of Eucharist means actively loving those with whom we gather and recognizing them to be one with us.  United together, this is the Body of Christ, the Church.

To accept the implications of what we say we believe means that we will be ambassadors of love to those who are most unloved.  God expects us to continue Christ’s work.  Or, better put, Christ’s work cannot go on unless his body, the People of God, does it.  We cannot close our eyes to what is going on out there, remain inactive, and say that we are living the faith.  We must love the way Christ loved.

In the gospel Jesus talked about the two men in the field, one taken, one left.  He talked about the two women grinding wheat to flour, one taken, one left.  In each case, the one taken was the one who stayed awake and recognized the moment and yielded to faith.

The Lord’s house, in the first reading, is on the highest peak so that all from afar can see it and make their way toward it.  If we as Church let the reality of the feast we will celebrate in a few short weeks transform us, if we begin to love in the reality, hope will be rekindled even in those on the brink of despair.  They will say: Come, let us climb the Lord’s mountain.  And we just might see swords beaten into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks.  There just might be a renewed hope for peace.

Sincerely yours in Christ,



A reading from the second Book of Samuel 5:1-3
A reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Colossians 1:12-20
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke 23:35-43

Dear Friends in Christ,

The Liturgical Year concludes with the celebration of the Feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe.  The journey we made with the Liturgy of the Word through thirty-three Sundays in Ordinary Time, this year with Luke’s Gospel, draws to a conclusion as we ponder the beginning of Jesus Christ’s reign.  It is an odd feast to celebrate in this country because we are a people who pride ourselves in the fact that we do not have a king (or queen) ruling over us.  We do not have royalty, except for those celebrities of sports and entertainment before whom the commoners bow and adore and scream their hosannas.

I think of a painting portraying Jesus as king.  The figure is regally gowned and his head bears a splendid, bejeweled crown of gold.  He carries an orbed scepter in his hand.  Perhaps that is how Jesus is adorned at the Father’s right hand; but I seriously doubt it.  There is nothing in the Gospels that would correspond to Jesus’ being that kind of king.  Clearly, the opposite is true.  Since he is the full revelation of God, we might have to alter the image we have in mind of the Lord God Almighty.  Our God is a god who pleads with us to let God be god in our lives so that we can be God’s people.  God, YHWH in Hebrew Bible, can rage and wreck havoc on the wicked; but most oftenYHWH rushes to forgive even in anticipation of signs of repentance.

It might be jarring to hear the gospel that is proclaimed on this solemnity.  If you could choose, which reading would you select for the gospel to be read for this Liturgy of the Word?  Jesus walking on the water?  Jesus commanding the wind and the waves to be calm? Or, Jesus cleansing the Temple of the moneychangers?  After all, kings should have power, shouldn’t they?  In the first reading, Jesus’ ancestor, David was a commanding presence who had led soldiers into battle and helped them be victorious.  The people gave him power over them as they anointed him king.  Jesus is king in David’s line.

But what will we hear this Sunday as the gospel is proclaimed?  Jesus hangs on the cross, nailed to it, with a mocking sign tacked above his head: This is the King of the Jews.  Some Jewish leaders gather around and, watching, taunt Jesus, daring him to give some evidence of the powers that were manifest in the reported miracles he performed.  The soldiers, that is, the Gentiles, the foreign rule, taunt him as they offer him wine to dull the pain: If you are King of the Jews, save yourself.

Crucifixion was a grisly, slow, and torturous form of capital punishment.  Fortunately we are spared the awful details.  If this is a depiction of Christ, the King, then the cross is his throne, and his crown is of thorns.  In the 21st chapter of the Book of Revelation, Christ, the King, declares: Behold, I make all things new!  That applies to what he thinks it means for him to reign as king.  And there are ample implications for those who wish to reign with Jesus.

In the Last Supper scene in John’s Gospel, Jesus teaches the disciples and us what his being Lord and Master means.  He moves among them, clad as a servant, and washes their feet.  That is an image of Christ the King.  His command? What I have done for you, so must you do for one another.  In other words, the highest aspiration Jesus’ disciples can have is to share in Christ’s reign as feet washers.  Do Pope Francis’s words invoking a servant church serving the needs of the poor resonate?  There are not a few protesting against Francis’s challenge.

Do not miss the manifestations of power and authority in this gospel.  Jesus is crucified between two criminals, the bad thief and the good thief, as they are popularly called.  It is interesting that often times, when stories are concocted about these two, tellers have no trouble assigning terrible deeds, capital crimes to the bad thief.  However the good thief must really have meant to be good all along.  He just traveled with the wrong company.  I don’t think so.  The good thief was probably just as bad as the bad thief, and just as guilty.  This scene may well be a proof for one of the accusations leveled against Jesus that merited his being crucified.  This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.

Notice what the bad thief says to Jesus.  To revile means to berate, or, to insult.  That would be the tone in his voice as he said to Jesus: Are you not the Christ?  Save yourself and us.  How well did he know Jesus?  How much had he heard about him?  We do not know, but enough so that he could taunt Jesus with the title of Messiah, or Christ.  Chances are that had Jesus performed the miracle the thief sought, he just might have become a disciple.  On the other hand, maybe not.  History has borne evidence to the fact that the enthusiasm of incipient faith often times does not last.

Now we witness the exchange between Jesus and the other thief.  The difference is marked.  Rarely in the Gospels is Jesus addressed by his name.  Usually he is called Master, or, Lord.  There is no evidence of disrespect, but rather of a degree of familiarity when the thief, after admitting to the justice in the condemnation of the two thieves, says: Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.  Perhaps he had been in the crowd a time or two as Jesus taught.  Perhaps he had witnessed a miracle.  Perhaps there had been an earlier conversion moment.  We do not know.  What we do know is that this is a moment of grace.  The good thief makes a declaration of faith in the one dying with him, a faith that has nothing but grace to support it.  He is not scandalized by the degradation Jesus suffers.  That is what faith is like.  If there were ample signs of Jesus’ power and majesty, if he radiated God’s favor, it would not take faith for the thief to acknowledge Jesus’ authority.  You do not believe in something you can see clearly.  The saints in heaven do not believe in God.  They know God even as they are known.

A word about the word remember.  To remember means more than calling to mind a past event, or someone no longer present.  When, in the course of the Last Supper, Jesus said over the Bread and the Wine: Do this in my memory, he was saying, do this and I am present to you.  This kind of remembering makes the whole mystery present.  That is the implication of the thief’s plea.  He is begging to be present to Jesus when Jesus enters his reign.

Jesus responds with these words: Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.  In other words, you have my promise that it will happen.  Today.  Notice that Jesus does not say, after you have spent some time in Purgatory atoning for your sins, then you will enter Paradise.  He says it will happen today.

In the Book of Genesis, Paradise is where the saga began.  That is where Adam and Eve lived in close relationship with God in an ordered universe, before sin disrupted everything and severed humanity’s relationship with God and each other.  Jesus’ passion and death, his full acceptance of the implications of being human, his emptying himself of the powers of his divinity, this is our salvation that will be attested to by his resurrection.  The re-ordering of creation has begun.  Sin has been forgiven.  That is the substance of the magnificent rhapsody that St. Paul sings in the second reading from the Letter to the Colossians.  For in (Christ) all the fullness (of God) was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile all things for him, making peace by the blood of his cross through him, whether those on earth or those in heaven.  Christ’s reign begins.

Some things to think about as we celebrate the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe.  I do not think that I will be the first to say that we are living in very difficult times.  Wars rage.  Children are killed.  Many others starve to death and their parents look on helplessly.  Emigrants seeking refuge and freedom, drown in the sea.  Others are held captive, children separated from parents, living in cages at our borders.  Their is violence in our streets and in our homes.  Otherwise civilized people hurl diatribes of racist remarks.  White supremacists bomb synagogues and mosques.  Sexism and racism and elitism are in ample evidence.  It is the poor’s fault that they are poor.  Otherwise civilized people hurl diatribes of racist and sexist remarks.  There is no reluctance to make blanket accusations of terrorism against all Islamic people. Members of the Assembly walked out of a church recently when they heard the priest preach that he believed that as long as they were sincere in their beliefs, Jews, Muslims and Protestants will make it to heaven along with their Catholic brothers and sisters.  And Pope Francis said that was even possible for atheists.  Sexism survives and thrives.  There is evidence of self-aggrandizing among the clergy.

As we gather to celebrate Eucharist on this Solemnity, may we assemble as a people who give clear testimony to our belief in Christ who reigns from the Cross and whose kingship is expressed in loving service to little ones.  The Second Vatican Council declared that the Church is the People of God.  The Church is the Body of Christ.  As we eat of the One Bread and drink from the One Cup, may we attest to our belief that in Christ all people are sisters and brothers in the one family of God, and that all have been saved through his dying and rising.  Then, of course, there is the need to acknowledge that Christ the King lives primarily in the poor, in the little ones.  We have his word on that.

If we did not get it right on our journey this year, do not despair.  Next Sunday will be the First Sunday of Advent, the beginning of a new Liturgical Year.  We can start the journey all over again, this time with Matthew’s Gospel.  And just maybe this time, we will get the message and be transformed.  You never know.  With Christ all things are possible.

Sincerely yours in Christ,



A reading from the Book of the Prophet Malachi 3:19-20a
A reading from St. Paul’s second Letter to the Thessalonians 3:7-12
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke 21:15-19

Dear Friends in Christ,

We come to the next to the last Sunday of this Liturgical Year.  Next Sunday will be the Feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe.  Remember that as we enter the Liturgy of the Word this Sunday.  The readings urge us to consider the last things.  We are to consider  how our history will conclude, and how we are to live in the mean time.  Remember, we are a people of faith.  As such, we live with the conviction that God is in charge and, as importantly, ultimately God will triumph over everything that is evil.  But don’t we believe that has already happened?  Jesus Christ, through his passion, death, and resurrection, is the victor.  That is what our response during the Eucharistic Prayer means.  In some form we proclaim that the Lord, by his cross and resurrection, has set us free.  Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world.  If we believe that, then there is no doubt about the final outcome.  

We live in the tension between Christ’s ascending to the Father’s right hand and his return in glory.  We must not forget that we have Jesus’ promise to be with us always, even to the world’s end.  That declaration is meant to support us along the Way.

Apocalyptic literature has been popular for centuries.  Think of Dante’s The Divine Comedy.  Disaster films terrify and thrill audiences, especially when they deal with the end of the world.  On the eve of Halloween in 1938, Orson Welles narrated a radio dramatization of H. G. Wells’ novel, War of the Worlds.  People who tuned in mid-broadcast thought they had happened upon an interruption of regular programing as the nation was being alerted to a disastrous invasion from Mars.  Panic ensued.  Some got in their cars and headed out for some safe haven, wherever that might be.  Others jumped from buildings in terror.  It is one thing to be fascinated by the end times; it is another to find one’s self in the midst of them.

One thing must be remembered about things apocalyptic.  While the literature does deal with The End, in the end evil forces are encountered and destroyed by the good.  Far from promoting fatalism and the triumph of evil, the apocalypse gives reason to hope.

Think about that as the readings for this Sunday wash over you.  While they are heavy and speak of terrible events, each reading means to support faith and to encourage perseverance in spite of contrary signs.

As I write this it occurs to me that there is no shortage of prophets of doom.  We are living in difficult times of rabid sexism, racism and divisive elitism.  Violence  and mass shootings are reported practically every evening on the news.  Terrorism is a major word in today’s vocabulary.  Wars rage in the Middle East.  And there are natural disasters from earthquakes and storms to forest fires and flooding that unleash unimaginable suffering on multitudes.  So, when we hear the Prophet Malachi in the first reading, and Jesus in the Gospel, it will not be difficult to visualize what they are talking about.  But listen for the reason to banish despair.  Dante got it right.  The Divine Comedy begins in hell, but ends In Paradiso.

Malachi is a post-exilic prophet.  The Jewish people have come back from the Babylonian Captivity and have rebuilt the Temple.  The best of times have not followed.  Just the opposite seems to have been the case.  There is a general flagging of faith and the people do not live by the Mosaic Law.  Some follow pagan ways and sacrifice to Baal with the hope that then they will find reason for security.  In Malachi’s scathing language, the proud and all evildoers become towering weeds reduced to stubble as fire consumes them.  The source of Malachi’s warning?  The Lord of hosts has said it.  There is a lack of specificity regarding when this conflagration will happen.  It might be some time away.  The message is meant to encourage those who fear my name.  (A word about the word fear.  In this context, fear does not mean trembling or being in terror.  Here the word fear means to stand in awe of YHWH.)  Through the prophet, YHWH promises the faithful that after the holocaust, the destruction by fire, there will arise the sun of justice with its healing rays for those who are faithful.

We come to the second reading from St. Paul’s second Letter to the Thessalonians.  There is a tone of reprimand and an urging to reform.  What occasioned this?  In the Thessalonian community some of the members have determined for themselves that The Day of the Lord, i.e., the day of Christ’s return in glory will be imminent.  Consequently they have stopped working at their day jobs and are idling their time away, engaging in gossip and becoming dependent on, and a burden to the rest of the community while they wait for the Lord’s return.  Since they are not working, they have no money for food.  They expect the community to feed them.

Paul says that they should be doing a better job of following his example and imitating what Paul did when he came among them to announce Christ.  It would not have been an injustice for Paul to expect food and shelter from the Thessalonians in payment for the service he rendered them.  That is not what he did.  Paul worked hard and earned his own keep.  He was not a burden to anyone.  Those idlers in the community should imitate Paul.  If they do not and consequently have no food, that should be their problem.  The workers in the community have no obligation to feed them.

That sounds harsh, doesn’t it?  What about Jesus’ urging us to feed the hungry and clothe the naked?  We call such actions Corporal Works of Mercy.  They are when those hungry and naked ones have no way to earn the money to buy their own food and clothes.  Think of the many homeless living on the streets in our country.  Think of those seeking entry at our borders.  As followers of Christ, we have a communal responsibility to reach out to the poor who are trapped in poverty through no fault of their own.  The St. Vincent de Paul Society and other similar organizations have a difficult time meeting the daily demands for food and shelter.  The number of homeless people continues to climb as families are living on the street or in cars as their only shelter.  Paul is not saying that we have no obligation toward these.  There may be a few among the unemployed to whom his admonition would apply, but he is not speaking about those in genuine need.

While this might smack of socialism to some, in faith we do have an obligation to feed the poor and shelter the homeless and to recognize Christ in them as St. Francis of Assisi did when he kissed the leper.  Christ’s final coming in glory on the day of judgment just might be the motivation we need to keep shouldering the burden, even as we urge the idlers who are content to live on the dole to get busy and work for their own keep or go hungry.

The word gospel means good news.  You might think that today’s gospel challenges that meaning.  Where is the good news?  Everything Jesus is saying sounds negative and a prediction of dreadful times to come, even for the faithful ones.  The musings of the people about the splendor of the restored temple occasions the Lord’s remarks.  If you have ever stood in awe before some magnificent new building, the latest in architectural brilliance, you have had their experience, especially if you cannot imagine such a masterpiece falling to rubble.  Luke’s Gospel was written after the Roman invasion and the destruction of the temple.  For those who were dazzled by the glory of the temple, witnessing its destruction must have seemed like the worst event imaginable.  What worse could possibly happen?  Wouldn’t that be a signal for the beginning of the last days?

We listen carefully to what the Lord says so that we can hear the good news when it comes.  First of all, there is no promise that it will be a short time until judgment day.  There may be those who will claim to be Christ reincarnated.  There may be those who will say that the end is near.  No matter how terrible the signs are, wars, famines, earthquakes, fires and plagues, all of which we have seen, no matter how terrible the signs may seem, they do not necessarily signal the end.  Disciples are called to remain faithful through it all even as we anticipate the Lord’s coming.

Second, Jesus tells us what is in store for disciples along the way.  Luke seizes upon the lived experience of the people as they are being expelled from the temple, excommunicated, we would term it.  Remember Saul was on his way to Damascus to round up some heretical Jews who were followers of the New Way, to imprison and execute them, when he met Christ in that blinding flash and became Paul, the Apostle.  Jewish converts were not only thrown out of the temple, declared to be unclean, but they were disowned by their families.  Suddenly they found themselves unemployed because their work was not acceptable for followers of Christ.  Similar fates happened to Gentile converts.  Both Jewish and Gentile Christians became enemies of the state and were persecuted and put to death.  No wonder Jesus had said that if they were going to be his disciples they would have to take up their crosses every day and follow him.

Third, those being persecuted for their faith will become prophets of the faith.  The Lord promises to give the disciples a wisdom that will amaze and refute their persecutors.  Some will rage in response to their witness and kill the Christians.  Others will be moved by what they hear and find themselves powerless to refute or deny what they see and hear.  That is especially true of the love witnessed that binds the community of believers together.  It is undeniably true that in every age that the Church has been persecuted, the number of new believers surges even as the faith of the persecuted intensifies.  While there will be no shortage of those who hate Christ’s followers, there will be plenty of those whose hatred changes to admiration, and from admiration to imitation, and from imitation to faith.

The promise for the faithful?  If we persevere through the difficult times, the worst of times, ultimately there will be for us salvation.  No matter how terrible the signs that confront the disciples, we will not be defeated.  Salvation will be ours.  The Apocalypse does not end in despair, but in defeat of evil when Christ returns in Glory.

Does that give you insights into why we are a Eucharistic people and Alleluia is our song?  Sunday after Sunday, the day of the Lord’s resurrection, we gather to give thanks to God in the breaking of the bread.  We renew Christ’s dying and rising.  Having eaten his body and drunk his blood, we are sent forth to continue the proclamation through word and action, until he comes in glory.  When will that be?  Only God knows.  Our part in these times is to be signs of contradiction and to trust and to believe that one day it will happen.

Sincerely yours in Christ,