The Anniversary of the 9-11-01 Tragedy

Today’s readings

Seventeen years ago today, I sat in my room at seminary waiting for my first class to begin.  My classmates were already in their first classes; I had taken that particular class in college, so I didn’t have to take it again in seminary.  While I waited for class to begin, I flipped on the morning news, and just caught the end of something about a plane colliding with one of the towers of the World Trade Center.  I tried to get more information on the internet, but Yahoo news was running slow because of all the people trying to find out what happened.  Later, as I watched on television, I learned of the tragic events of four plane crashes that day and the thousands of lives that were lost.  Our world, in those tragic hours, was changed forever.

And so today, it can be very hard to hear the words Saint Paul speaks to the Corinthians today.  He speaks about letting ourselves be cheated and allowing the injustice that sometimes happens to us, rather than fighting it by committing the same sins ourselves. He exhorts us to treat each other as brothers and sisters.  And yet, when we look at an injustice like the tragedy of 9-11, it can be hard to see our persecutors as brothers and sisters.  It’s almost unthinkable to just let it happen to us and not lash out. But his point is that fighting against it by perpetrating injustice to others is sinful too, and he’s right.

The point is that we have to live the peace and justice and righteousness that we want to see in the world.  If all we do is respond to evil with evil, we don’t ever change anything.  But if we respond by making our corner of the world a better place, it can change everything. The Gospel Verse today says, “I chose you from the world, that you may go and bear fruit that will last, says the Lord.”  And evil never lasts, because Christ has conquered it.  Peace, justice, and love – those things last, because their source is God himself.

So I think we have to look at ourselves.  Have we been sources of peace or sources of anger, hate and violence?  And I don’t even mean that on any grand scale. Maybe we’ve just been jealous in petty ways, or have held on to the occasional grudge.  Maybe we have decided not to call the relative whose phone only seems to accept incoming calls.  Maybe we have sent a nasty email without stopping to consider it for any due time.  Maybe we have made or laughed at a racial joke, or have decided not to confront a person who uses racial slurs.  To whatever extent we have not been peaceful, we have added to the hatred and evil of which our world is already full.

And so today we pray for ourselves, that we might be more forgiving, for our world that it might be more peaceful, for our enemies and ourselves that we might come to know each other as children of God, for an end to evil and terrorism and murder and injustice of every kind.  Toward all of that, I offer today the prayer that Pope Benedict offered ten years ago at Ground Zero:

God of peace, bring your peace to our violent world:
peace in the hearts of all men and women
and peace among the nations of the earth.
Turn to your way of love
those whose hearts and minds
are consumed with hatred.

God of understanding,
overwhelmed by the magnitude of this tragedy,
we seek your light and guidance
as we confront such terrible events.
Grant that those whose lives were spared
may live so that the lives lost …
may not have been lost in vain.
Comfort and console us,
strengthen us in hope,
and give us the wisdom and courage
to work tirelessly for a world
where true peace and love reign
among nations and in the hearts of all.

Amen.

Independence Day

Today’s readings: Isaiah 57:15-19 | Philippians 4:6-9 | John 14:23-29

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. 

That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…

So begins our nation’s Declaration of Independence, a document of inestimable worth, authored by passionate men.  The independence that document brought came at the price of many lives, and so that independence and the rights it brought forth, must always be vigorously defended and steadfastly maintained.  Almost 200 years later, the bishops of the Church, gathered in synod for the second Vatican Council, spoke boldly of the specific liberty of religious freedom.  They wrote:

This Vatican Council declares that the human person has a right to religious freedom. This freedom means that all men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits. 

The council further declares that the right to religious freedom has its foundation in the very dignity of the human person as this dignity is known through the revealed word of God and by reason itself. This right of the human person to religious freedom is to be recognized in the constitutional law whereby society is governed and thus it is to become a civil right.  (Dignitatis Humanae, 2.)

So the Church teaches that the right to free practice of religion belongs to each person as part of their fundamental human dignity.  A person’s right to form a relationship with, worship, and live in accord with the God who created them is foundational to all civil liberties.  And while having this right in a nation’s constitution is important, actually putting it into practice is another matter entirely.

In our nation, the free practice of religion was so important that those passionate men took the radical step of breaking ties with the country of their patrimony, and forging a new nation.  Because of that, we have inherited the freedom they fought hard to arrange.  But again, we have to be vigilant to protect that freedom, or it can become just words on paper.

Freedom of religion was never intended to be freedom from religion, a notion that well-meaning agnostics, atheists and secularists have sought diligently to popularize.  The Church teaches that true freedom isn’t some misguided notion of being able to do whatever on earth we want, regardless of the needs and rights of others: our own freedoms are never meant to impinge on the freedom of another.  As Saint John Paul said, “Freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought.”

So it is important on this Independence Day, to take a stand for freedom that is truly free, to defend the freedom to which our Founding Fathers dedicated their lives, and to insist that our freedoms are not just freedoms on paper, but instead, true freedoms, extended to every person.  Because it is that freedom that leads us to our God.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus gives to his Apostles, and to us, the peace that comes from the  abiding presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives.  That Spirit leads us to truth and peace and ultimately into the presence of God himself.  Blessed are we, free are we, when we put aside everything that gets in the way of the Spirit’s action in our lives and impinges on our true freedom to walk with our God.

In the last line of the Declaration of Independence, our forefathers pledged themselves to the great task of building a nation based on freedom: “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”  They gave everything so that we might all be free.  May we always make the same pledge that our nation may always be great.

The Second Sunday of Easter (Divine Mercy Sunday)

Today’s readings

I often wonder what brings people to Mass on the Second Sunday of Easter.  We had crowds of people here last Sunday, as you know, but things this Sunday are, perhaps a bit unfortunately, back to normal.  The Easter duty is done, and most people go back to their normal Sunday routines, whatever they may be.  But many of us still gather for worship this morning.  What is it that brings us here today?

Maybe our motives are grand ones.  We can’t get enough of the Word of God and his Real Presence in the Eucharist – I hope that’s the case!  Or maybe we need to be together with the community in order for our faith to make sense and our life to be on track.  Maybe we know that our presence in the worshipping community isn’t just about us, but rather about all of us being together, that there would be no community without all of us present.  Maybe you came to one of my Masses last Sunday and were struck with awe at the inspiring words I preached!

But maybe our motives aren’t quite so lofty.  Maybe, at some level, we’re here because of fear.  Fear that our lives aren’t going the way we’d like them to.  Fear that family problems are not getting resolved.  Fear that our jobs are unfulfilling or our relationships are in disarray.  Fear that our lives are empty spiritually, and we don’t know where to find our Lord.  Fear that missing Mass will lead us to hell.  Fear that if we don’t get out we’ll be lonely.  I think if we’re honest, there’s a little fear in all of us, and at some level, that fear leads us here.

And if you find that’s the case for you, you have ten patron saints locked up in that room.  They too had a great deal of fear.  Fear that they too might be led to the cross by the same people who took Jesus there.  There was certainly some reality to that fear, and I think we can all understand it.  But I also think it’s significant to realize that the Eleven, all of whom lived closely with Jesus for three years, were not yet able to overcome their fears and pursue the mission of Jesus.  Instead, they gather in a locked room, mourning their friend, confused about the empty tomb and stories of his appearances, and fearful for their own lives.  We whose lives are filled with fear at times definitely have the Apostles as our kindred spirits.

The truth is that, like the Apostles, it doesn’t matter what has gathered us here.  The important thing is that at least we are here.  At least in our fear we did not hide away and refuse to be brought into the light.  Because there are many who have left us, aren’t there?  Many have had enough of church scandals and have decided to take their spiritual business elsewhere.  Many have been hurt in all kinds of ways and have not found immediate healing in the Church.  Many have been influenced by the allurements of the world and the false comforts of pop psychology and have given up on a religion that makes demands of them.  Many have left us, but at least we are here, at least we have gathered, albeit in fear, albeit locked up in our own little rooms, but definitely in the path of our Lord who longs to be among us in our fear and to say, “Peace be with you.”

The peace that Jesus imparts is not just the absence of war or conflict in our lives.  It is instead a real peace, a peace from the inside of us out.  A peace that affects our body, mind and spirit.  A peace that brings us into communion with one another and most especially with God for whom we were created and redeemed.  The peace that the Ten had upon seeing their Risen Lord, the peace that Thomas had just one week later, is the same peace that our Risen Lord offers to all of us fearful disciples who gather together as a refuge against the storms and uncertainties of our own lives.  That peace is a peace that invites us to reach out like Thomas did and touch our Lord as we receive his very Body and Blood in all his Divine Mercy.

That peace is not some passive greeting that rests upon us and goes no further.  Whenever we are gifted with any blessing, it is never intended only for us.  We who have been gifted and healed and transformed by the peace of our Risen Lord are called just like the Eleven to continue to write the story of Jesus so that others may see and believe.  We now become the peace of Christ to reach out to a world that appears to be hopelessly un-peaceful.  We must extend that peace by reaching out to touch those who are sick, or poor, or lonely, or despairing, or doubtful, or fearful, or grieving, or fallen away.  Our own presence in and among our loved ones and in and among the world must be a presence that is rooted in the Risen Lord and steeped in his peace.  We must be the ones who help a doubting world to no longer be unbelieving but believe.

We have come here today for all kinds of reasons.  We may have come here in doubt and fear, but as we approach the Eucharist and receive the very Body and Blood of our Lord who invites us to reach out and touch him in all his brokenness and woundedness, as we go forth to glorify the Lord this day, may we leave not in doubt and fear but instead in belief and peace.  Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

Peace be with you.

Easter Thursday 

Today’s readings 

Can you imagine how the disciples were feeling at this point? Prior to today’s Gospel selection, the women found the empty tomb, Peter has seen the Lord, and the two disciples had experienced him in the breaking of the bread on the way to Emmaus. Their minds were most likely reeling with excitement; trying to get a grip on the things he had said to them while he was still with them. I’m sure they were trying to figure out what all this meant, what they needed to do next.
Maybe that’s why the Lord’s initial words to them are “Peace be with you.” And apparently it didn’t work, because they think they’re seeing a ghost. After he eats some fish and speaks to them of the Scriptures, he sends them on mission with the words: “You are witnesses of these things.” 
The peace that Jesus gives them is not the absence of conflict. That they will be witnesses to the fulfillment of the Scriptures will be anything but peaceful for them. They will have to make sacrifices – sacrifices of their very lives – to witness as Jesus calls them to, but there is no other choice. They are now beginning to understand the significance of what has happened among them, and they must go forward to do what they had been chosen to do. 
When we have to make the decision to follow God’s call in our lives, we too will have to sacrifice. Not our lives, probably, but we will have to sacrifice our own comfort, our control over our own lives, our own point of view. But just like the disciples, we must remember what we have been chosen to do, and follow where we are being led. 
We are witnesses of these things too, we are called to live and proclaim the Gospel. May we too receive the peace of Christ that we might focus on our call. 

Monday of the Thirty-first Week of Ordinary Time 

Today’s Readings 

“In you, O Lord, I have found my peace.”
I believe that one of the goals of all our lives is to find true peace. And unfortunately, we spend time looking for that peace in too many of the wrong places. We might think we can find peace in wealth, or status, or whatever, but these things tend to lose their luster rather quickly, and the pursuit of them often stirs up something far less than peaceful in our lives.
But the Psalmist tells us exactly what is going to bring us that true peace that we look for, or rather, who is going to bring it. And that is the Lord. We could go after great things, looking for something beyond what God wants for us. Or we could go after things too sublime, things that require more from us than what we can give, but the Psalmist refuses to go there. Rather, he says, he has stilled and quieted his soul like a child on its mother’s lap.
True peace is a product of quieting one’s soul and finding God’s will. Reaching for things that don’t concern us, trying to get involved in things that are not what God wants for us, letting ourselves get dragged into sin, those things will never bring us peace. Only in the Lord is our hope and our peace.

Tuesday of the Fifth Week of Easter

Today’s readings

Some of you might be thinking Saint Paul was a typical man. He’s almost stoned to death and left, in fact, for dead, and he gets up and enters the city like nothing was wrong. I don’t know about you, but if I barely weathered the storm of people throwing rocks at me and leaving me for dead, I might think twice about how I handled my ministry. That’s nothing to be proud of, but I think that’s part of fallen human nature. How blessed we are to have the saints, like Saint Paul, to give example of how to weather the storm and live the faith and preach the word. Indeed, if it weren’t for the grace-filled tenacity of those saintly apostles, we would very likely not have the joy of our faith today.

But contrast the storminess of Paul’s stoning with the wonderful words of encouragement and consolation we have in today’s Gospel reading: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.” We can think of all sorts of situations in which these words would be welcome. We have all experienced health problems in ourselves or in those close to us, job difficulties, family problems, and so many more. How wonderfully consoling it is to know that in the midst of the many storms we daily face, our Savior is there: offering us peace.

But the peace Jesus offers us in this reading is a bit different from what we might expect. It’s not the mere absence of conflict, nor is it any kind of placating peace the world might offer us. This peace is a genuine one, a peace that comes from the inside out, a peace that calms our troubled minds and hearts even if it does not remove the storm.

God knows that we walk through storms every day. He experienced that first-hand in the person of Jesus as he walked our walk in his earthly life. He knows our joys and our pains, and reaches out to us in every one of them with his abiding presence and his loving embrace. He was there for Saint Paul when he was being stoned, and he is there for us too. His presence abides in us through the Church, through the holy people God has put in our lives, through his presence in our moments of prayer and reflection, and in so many ways we could never count them all. This peace from the inside out is one that our God longs for us to know, whether we are traversing calm waters or braving a vicious storm.

We pray, then, for the grace to find peace in our daily lives, the peace that comes from Jesus himself.

Thursday of the Thirty-third Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

If the readings today stir up feelings of anxiety in us, well, that’s to be expected. These are not readings of comfort and peace – anything but! And that’s just how the Lectionary is arranged. Every year at the end of the Church year – which this is – we have readings about how times will end. These readings are called apocalyptic readings, and at the close of a year, it makes sense to read about the close of time.

Generally speaking, apocalyptic readings are written during times of intense persecution in the Church. It makes sense that as persecution increases, the imaginations of those being persecuted would turn toward a time when one’s enemies would be vanquished in a glorious battle, and a new time of grace would come.

But often these apocalyptic readings speak of the persecution itself, and that’s what’s happening in the book of Maccabees, which we have been hearing the last week or so. On Tuesday, old Eleazar would not give in to the unreasonable demands of Antiochus Epiphanes, even though he had been faithful his whole life long. He refused to be a cause of scandal for the young and went to his death. The same happened yesterday to the seven brothers and their mother who were all put to death. Well, today, Mattathias has had enough of all of this, and has seen one too many faithful Jews give up and give in, so he incites a revolution and gives courage to all those being persecuted.

If today these readings stir up more feelings of uneasiness than they have perhaps in the past, well, that’s easy to understand. The apostasy is catching up with us too, in these days. Persecution of Christians and the proliferation of terror and violence seems to be coming to a fever pitch – not just in Paris, or even just in Beirut or Syria, but day after day in our cities.

Understandably, we all wonder how to stay safe and stay out of harm’s way. But the truth is, living our faith is dangerous. Just ask Eleazar or the seven brothers, or Mattathias. It might seem “safe” to give up and give in to society, or even to go into hiding. But the Psalmist knows the only way to real safety and real peace: “Offer to God praise as your sacrifice / and fulfill your vows to the Most High; / Then call upon me in time of distress; / I will rescue you, and you shall glorify me.”

The way to fight this spiritual battle is to find our safety where the only true safety exists: in God alone. Jesus tells us in another place that we ought not to fear those who can merely kill the body, but to fear instead the one who seeks to kill our souls (Matthew 10:28). So we believers put on the armor of faith: good works, fervent prayer, honest confession, reception of the sacraments. And then we trust in the One who alone is trustworthy: our God who gives us the only life worth living.

All Souls Remembrance Mass

Readings: Isaiah 25:6-9 | Psalm 23 | Romans 14:7-9, 10c-12 | Matthew 25:31-46

One of my most vivid childhood memories was when I was just about nine years old. My grandfather on my mother’s side, who had retired just a few months earlier, was diagnosed with cancer. There wasn’t so much that could be done about cancer in those days, so he wasn’t expected to live long. And so one night, as the oldest of the children, Mom and Dad came to my room to talk to me about Grandpa. That was the night I learned about life and death, sadness and grief, love and pain. We cried a bunch, hugged a lot, and talked about how we were going to miss him.

I went to the wake and funeral with my family, because that’s what we did when a loved one died. My parents could have shielded me from that experience in many ways, as so many parents do, but they chose not to, and I’m glad they made that decision. Death and grief aren’t things we actively seek, but we can’t be afraid to meet them head on, girded with faith, and confident of the hope we have in Christ Jesus.

I still miss Grandpa to this very day. He had a wonderfully silly sense of humor that never failed to make me laugh and probably rubbed off on me, to be honest; he made a homemade ravioli that blew away anything I’ve ever eaten since; he came from Italy and made a beautiful life for his family, and the stories of that have been an inspiration to me every day. The same is true of all of my grandparents, all who have gone on to the Kingdom, all of whom I miss and all of whom were a great example for me.

I miss Grandma Mulcahy when I’m planting flowers in my Mom’s garden, because she did that better than anyone, and while she did, we would talk about Ireland and I would hear about life in the “Old Country.” I miss Grandma Mastrodonato – Mom’s Mom – when I’m out in a public setting and see people doing crazy things because she always enjoyed people watching and listening to others. I missed Dad’s Dad a lot in my job previous to seminary, because he built the monstrous printing press that was, at the time, printing a job for my one of my customers.

And I miss Dad, so very much. When I’m having a rough day, I just want to sit down and talk, knowing he’d listen and understand, and support me in whatever way I needed. And there are aunts and uncles who have gone on to the Lord, too. All of these characters have been inspirational to me in some way, and I find that the grieving, while it may dissipate a bit, never seems to completely go away. I don’t think it’s supposed to. Because when we have loved much, the passing away of one we have loved leaves a hole in our life that shouldn’t go away. That doesn’t mean that our life comes to an end: we move on, as move on we must, but always with a sense of loss, hopefully tempered with fondness for the relationship we had, hopeful of a reunion in heaven one day.

“For if we live, we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord; so then, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.” So says Saint Paul in his letter to the Romans from today’s second reading. That is our prayer for our loved ones, for all the faithful departed. Because, if we are convinced of that grace, we know they are alright, and have hope that we will be alright too. And our Liturgy gives us words to hope on as well. In a few moments, I will sing the words that have comforted me so many times in my sorrow: “Indeed, for your faithful, Lord, life is changed, not ended, and when this earthly dwelling turns to dust, an eternal dwelling is made ready for them in heaven.” This echoes the words of the Prophet Isaiah in today’s first reading: “The Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces; The reproach of his people he will remove from the whole earth; for the Lord has spoken.”

During November, the Church continues to remember those we prayed for on the second day of this month, the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed. And for this remembrance, I have chosen to reflect on our experience of grief, and I’ve done that because it’s an experience we all have, on some level, at some time in our lives. I want you to know how very natural grief is, and how very blessed an experience it is. We must always remember that blessed experiences aren’t always pain-free. Our God never flees from our brokenness, instead he has chosen to redeem it.

And so as we remember our loved ones, we offer our prayers for them too. We pray that God might place them one day on his right, saying to them and hopefully us too, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” The goal of all our lives is the life of heaven, and we shall all be restless until we attain that great joy.

And so we are confident, because we know that death only separates us from those we love for a short time, and that death never has the last word because Christ has triumphed over death. The beginning and end of everything is Christ, and Christ is with us in our first moments, and also in our last. He is with us in our pain and with us in our joy. He helps us to remember our loved ones with love that continues beyond our death and beyond the grave. Grief and loss and pain are temporary things for us. Love is eternal, love never ends, love can never be destroyed by death, love leads us all to the great glory of the resurrection and eternal light in that kingdom where Christ has conquered everything, even death itself.

Eternal rest grant unto all of our loved ones, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

The Twelfth Sunday of Ordinary Time: Journeying from Fear to Faith

Today’s readings

Getting ready for Mass today, I thought about my Dad. Not just because it’s Father’s Day, although that’s certainly part of it. But partly because of today’s Gospel. The story we have here today speaks about a journey, and I’ll say more about that in a minute. My Dad was great for journeys: he loved to drive and take the family to Wisconsin or to Disney, or wherever we needed to go. He’d have us up early in the morning so that we’d miss rush hour traffic, and we’d be on our way.

Today, Jesus and his disciples set out on a significant journey. The reading we have today is at the end of chapter four, in which Jesus has been standing next to the sea, teaching the people by means of parables. He has told them the parable of the sower who went out to sow seeds, the parable of the mustard seed, and the lamp placed on the lamp stand. He is explaining the kingdom of God to them, but they don’t quite get it. Even the disciples have to have it explained to them. When he’s done the best that he can with them, he is ready to move on. There are other people that need to hear the Good News, others who need to know Jesus’ power and authority.

And so he sets out on the journey, and the reading says that the disciples take him with them in the boat “just as he was.” That’s a curious detail, I think. But it makes me remember those trips with my dad. It’s time to get going, no time to change clothes or freshen up, just get in the car – or in this case, the boat – and let’s get started on the journey. But the journey isn’t always without its problems. On vacation trips we may run into traffic, or if in the air, perhaps turbulence. On the sea, the disciples experienced the raging waves of a fearsome storm. So they wake Jesus up, because apparently these storms don’t really affect him, and he rebukes the storm, and then rebukes the disciples for their little faith.

We’re all on a journey. That journey, like that of the disciples, is from fear to faith. We very rarely have time to think about it; we just have to get in the boat and get moving, just as we are. The journey is not always smooth: storms arise, and when they do, it often seems like our God is sleeping, seeming not to care that we are about to perish. I’m not going to fill in the blanks for you – you can all do that well enough. You’ve been on many journeys in your life, and sometimes the ride has been bumpy. But if we stay on the journey, we definitely get to experience this One whom “even wind and sea obey.” Even when our God seems to be sleeping, he is never unaware of our situation, and his love for us is never on pause.

The thing is, sometimes the storm doesn’t seem to stop so quickly as it does in today’s Gospel reading. Would that Jesus would stand up in the boat of our uncertainty and yell out: “Quiet! Be still!” But maybe he is. Maybe the “Be still” is directed at us and not at the storm. There was a contemporary Christian song a few years ago now, that had this wonderful line in it: “Sometimes he calms the storm, and other times he calms his child.” That song has given me peace in many situations. Because as frightening as the storms of our lives can be, they are no match for the grace of God. Even if God allows the storm to rage in our lives, if he is with us, calming us, we have nothing to fear. And maybe that is the occasion when we make progress on that journey from fear to faith.

So as we leave this holy place today, we are on a journey to the most holy place, our true home in heaven. Along the way, we will have other destinations, and as we travel, we know that Jesus will be with us through it all. He may calm the storms that arise, or he may calm his children, whichever is most appropriate. And we know that the journey from fear to faith will lead us back one day to the place we really belong, at the banquet table in the kingdom of everlasting life. May all of our life’s journeys end up in that same, great place!

The First Sunday of Advent

Today’s readings

To you, I lift up my soul, O my God.
In you, I have trusted; let me not be put to shame.
Nor let my enemies exult over me;
and let none who hope in you be put to shame.

Those are the very first words in the Roman Missal’s Proper of Time.  This is today’s proper entrance antiphon, and with these words, the Church begins the new Church year.  We stand here on the precipice of something new: a new Church year, a new season of grace.  We eagerly await God’s new creation, lifting up souls full of hope and expectation.  We come to this place and time of worship to take refuge from the laughing enemies that pursue us into our corner of the world.  And yet we wait for God on this first day of the year, keenly aware that our waiting will not be unrewarded.  This is Advent, the season whose name means “coming” and stands before us as a metaphor of hope for a darkened world, and a people darkened by sin.

When we’re praying through Advent, perhaps we feel a sense of longing. We do long for that newness. This time of year, we long for warmer days. In the news lately, we long for peace in the world and even in cities and communities. Perhaps we long for peace in our families. As a community of faith, we long for the One who alone can bring the real, lasting peace that makes a difference in our lives and in our world. We long for the promised Savior who will bind up what is broken in us and lead us back to the God who made us for himself.

I sure think Isaiah had it right in today’s first reading, didn’t he?  “Why do you let us wander, O Lord, from your ways,” he cries, “and harden our hearts so that we fear you not?”  What a wonderful question for all of us – it’s a question that anyone who has struggled with a pattern of sin has inevitably asked the Lord at one time or another.  He goes on to pray “Would that you might meet us doing right, and that we were mindful of you in our ways!”  We so much want to break free of the chains of sin and sadness, and turn back to our God, but so often, we encounter so many obstacles along the way.

Whether it’s our own personal sin, which is certainly cause enough for sadness, or the sin in which we participate as a society, there’s a lot of darkness out there.  Wars raging all over the world, abortions happening every day of the year, the poor going unfed and dying of starvation here and abroad.  Why does God let all of this happen?  A quick look at the news leads us to ask ourselves, what kind of people have we become?  Why does God let us wander so far from his ways?  Why doesn’t he just rend the heavens and come down and put a stop to all this nonsense?

There is only one answer to this quandary, and that’s what we celebrate in this season of anticipation.  There has only ever been one answer.  And that answer wasn’t just a band-aid God came up with on the fly because things had gone so far wrong.  Salvation never was an afterthought.  Jesus Christ’s coming into the world was always the plan.

I’ve been thinking about some of my favorite Advent hymns this week.  One of my favorites is “O Come, Divine Messiah,” a seventeenth-century French carol translated into English in the late nineteenth century.  It sings of a world in silent anticipation for the breaking of the bondage of sin that could only come in one possible way, and that is in the person of Jesus Christ:

O Christ, whom nations sigh for,
Whom priest and prophet long foretold,
Come break the captive fetters;
Redeem the long-lost fold.

Dear Savior haste;
Come, come to earth,
Dispel the night and show your face,
And bid us hail the dawn of grace.

O come, divine Messiah!
The world in silence waits the day
When hope shall sing its triumph,
And sadness flee away.

As we prepare to remember the first coming of our Savior into our world, we look forward with hope and eagerness for his second coming too.  You’ll be able to hear that expressed in the Preface to the Eucharistic Prayer today.  That second coming, for which we live in breathless anticipation, will finally break the captive fetters and put an end to sin and death forever.  That is our only hope, our only salvation, really the only hope and salvation that we could ever possibly need.

All of this requires vigilance; we must be watchful, be alert, as Jesus instructs us in today’s Gospel. We want our God to meet us doing right.  And so our task now is to wait, and to watch.  Waiting requires patience: patience to enjoy the little God-moments that become incarnate to us in the everyday-ness of our lives.  Patience to accept this sinful world as it is and not as we would have it, patience to know that, as Isaiah says, we are clay and God is the potter, and he’s not done creating, or re-creating the world just yet.  And so we watch for signs of God’s goodness, alert to opportunities to grow in grace, with faith lived by people who are the work of God’s hands.

We wait and we watch knowing – convinced – that God will rend the heavens and come down to us again one day; that Christ will return in all his glory and gather us back to himself, perfecting us and allowing hope to sing its triumph so loud that all the universe can hear it, dispelling the night and putting sadness to flight once and for all. Be alert for that day.