Advent Homilies

Tuesday of the Third Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

One of the television shows that I like to watch sometimes is called “Chopped” on the Food Network.  If you’ve ever watched the Food Network, you’ve probably seen it because they seem to run it about 18 hours out of the day.  On this show, they start with four chefs, and they give them a basket of really different, and sometimes strange, ingredients, all of which they have to use, to make either an appetizer, main dish, or dessert, depending on the round.  The dishes are then presented to a panel of three judges who are chefs and restaurateurs.  These judges critique each dish and, of course, pass judgment.  As each course goes by, one of the contestant chefs gets “chopped” or eliminated, while the others continue to compete.  At the end of the show, the winner gets ten thousand dollars.

On one particular episode, one of the chef contestants had a real problem with arrogance.  He couldn’t see how anyone could possibly make a dish better than his, even though his always came out looking ragtag, and from what the judges said, tasting the same.  He would not listen to any of the critiques, because, well how did these people know anything?  He survived the first round, but was quickly eliminated in the second round, mostly because the judges got tired of his arrogance.

That came back to mind when I read today’s gospel reading.  Jesus tells the chief priests and elders, “tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the Kingdom of God before you.”  That had to be terrible news.  Because those chief priests and elders were living what they thought was a good life.  They were the “decent people” of society.  Nobody could be noticed by God before they were, surely.  But Jesus says they certainly are.  Why? Arrogance – again.

Like the arrogant chef, those chief priests and elders refused to listen to any kind of criticism.  John the Baptist had preached repentance, and the tax collectors and prostitutes, the riff-raff of society, had listened, and were gaining entrance to the kingdom of God.  Meanwhile, those so-called decent folks, the ones who should have known better, were in for an eternity of wailing and grinding their teeth.

The arrogant chef merely lost out on ten thousand dollars.  The arrogant chief priests and elders had lost out on quite a bit more: eternal life.  Today, we all pray for the grace to overcome any arrogance in us and accept correction for the sake of our salvation.

Advent Homilies Sacrament of Penance

The Second Sunday of Advent: Be Reconciled

Today’s readings

This week, I looked back in my homilies to the one I did a few years ago on this Sunday, and I had to chuckle just a little bit.  I talked about the fact that it’s hard to listen to the news in those days.  Ha!  There was sure some sadness in those days: unrest in the middle east, abuse scandals in the entertainment industry and political arena, crime in our cities, and so much more.  But here we are, a few years later, with the sadness of a pandemic complicated by political and social unrest.  It certainly seems like sadness compounds itself, doesn’t it?  

And so as we enter into Advent this year, I think we Advent more than ever. We need Jesus to come and put an end to all our foolishness, to fix all our brokenness, to wipe away our sickness, and heal all our sin and shame.  I am guessing the followers of Saint John the Baptist felt the same way.  They dealt with all the same stuff that we do: corruption in government, poverty, racism, and crime – none of this is new to our day and age, unfortunately – it never seems to go away.  And so they did what I think has to be a model for all of us today: they came to John, acknowledged their sins, and accepted the baptism of repentance.

They came to John, because at that point, Jesus wasn’t in full swing with his ministry, and they were seeking something new and something good.  We then, might come to Jesus in the same way, come to the Church, seeking something good and something new.  We need newness in our lives and in our society; we need the complications of doing simple things in every moment erased so that we can go back to normal, however that may look in the future.  We need a renewed culture of life and the ability to be Church again.  We need unity in Christ for all the people God has chosen as his own.

And then, like those followers of John the Baptist, we have to acknowledge our sins – personal sins and those in which we participate as a society.  We have to repent of our brokenness and seek to turn our lives and our society around.  We can’t keep sinning, we can’t be in love with our sins and say that we love God; we have to repent, literally be sorry for our sins and turn away from them, as we turn back to God.  That’s an important Advent message for every time and place, now more than ever.

It genuinely strikes me that, if we’re ever going to get past the bad stuff going on in our nation and our world, if we’re ever going to finally put an end to whatever sadness this world brings us, we have to begin that by putting an end to the wrong that we have done.  That’s why reconciliation is so important.  What each of us does – right or wrong – affects all of us.  The grace we put forward when we follow God’s will blesses others.  But the sin we set in motion when we turn away from God saddens the whole Body of Christ.  We are one in the Body of Christ, and if we are going to keep the body healthy, then each of us has to attend to ourselves.

So today, I am going to ask you to go to confession before Christmas.  I don’t do that because I think you’re all horrible people or anything like that.  I do that because I know that we all – including me – have failed to be a blessing of faith, hope and love to ourselves and others at some point, and I know that so many people struggle with persistent sins, nasty thorns in the flesh, day in and day out.  And God never meant it to be that way.  He wants you to experience his love and mercy and forgiveness and healing, and you get that most perfectly in the Sacrament of Penance.

So speaking of confession, here’s one of mine: There was a time in my life that I didn’t go to confession for a long time.  I had been raised at a time in the Church when that sacrament was downplayed.  It came about from what I came to realize was a really flawed idea of the sacrament and the human person.  But the Church has always taught that in the struggle to live for God and be a good person, we will encounter pitfalls along the way.  We’ll fail in many ways, and we will need forgiveness and the grace to get back up and move forward.  That’s what the Sacrament of Penance is for!

One day, I finally realized that I needed that grace and I returned to the sacrament.  The priest welcomed me back, did not pass judgment, and helped me to make a good confession.  That beautiful experience of coming back has made me prioritize welcoming others back to the sacrament.  Coming back to the Sacrament of Penance was an extremely healing experience for me, and now I make it my business to go to the sacrament as frequently as I can, because I need that healing and mercy and grace.  And you do too.  So please don’t leave those wonderful gifts unwrapped under the tree.  Go to Confession and find out just how much God loves you.

When you do find that out, you’ll be better able to help the rest of the Body of Christ to be the best it can be.  When your relationship is right with God, you will help the people around you know God’s love for them too.  That kind of grace bursts forth to others all the time.

This year, we are challenged offering the Sacrament because of the Pandemic.  We can’t have a penance service in the way that we did, but we are offering some additional times to come to Confession.  So in addition to our English and Spanish Confessions at 2:30pm on Saturday and Polish Confessions at noon on Sunday, we will have Confessions on Monday, December 14 and Monday, December 21 at 7:00pm until all are heard.  We have two additional confessors available those evenings to help serve you.

If you have been away from the sacrament for a very long time, I want you to come this Advent.  Tell the priest you have been away for a while, and expect that he will help you to make a good confession.  That’s our job.  All you have to do is to acknowledge your sins and then leave them behind, so that Christmas can be that much more beautiful for you and everyone around you.  Don’t miss that gift this year: be reconciled.

Homilies Ordinary Time

Thursday of the Thirty-third Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Our worshipping in these last days of the Church year is often difficult, I think, because these readings are just hard to hear.  The readings from Revelation this week have been confusing, to say the least, and maybe even a little frightening.  And even if we could ignore the fright of the Revelation, well the Gospel is a bit more violent this morning than we’d like to experience first thing in the morning, I think.

But there is a spiritual principle at work here.  We are being called to mindfulness.  If during this liturgical year we’ve been a little lax, or even have become complacent, these readings are calling us to wake up lest we miss what God is doing.  God is bringing the whole of creation to its fulfillment, and we are called to be witnesses of it.  We dare not be like those who missed the time of their visitation.  We have been given the wonderful gift of Christ’s presence in our lives all year long, and we are asked to look back at where that wonderful gift has taken us.

And if we haven’t come as far as we should, then we are called to wake up and realize what’s slipping away from us.  We must not be left out of the kingdom, all our hopes smashed to the ground, all because we didn’t recognize that our greatest hope was right in front of us all the time. We know the time is running short.  The days are shorter, and night approaches more quickly than we’d like.  The leaves have gone from the trees.  The nip in the air has turned to cold and even frost.  These are the physical manifestations of creation groaning to come to its fulfillment, at least for the meteorological year.

But if the encroaching winter leaves us empty and aching for warmth, then these final days of the Church year might find us also aching for the warmth of the kingdom, that kingdom we were created to live in all our days.  Let us not be like Jerusalem; we dare not miss the time of our visitation!

Homilies Ordinary Time

The Twenty-eighth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

If this isn’t a difficult Gospel passage to understand, I don’t think there is one!  What are we to make of such a convoluted story?  Surely we are not supposed to think that the king is God, are we?  I mean, why would Scripture portray God in such a terrible manner?  Do we want to believe in a God who would seemingly-arbitrarily destroy a whole city because people wouldn’t come to a banquet, and then throw someone out of the banquet who did come, because he wasn’t appropriately dressed?  These are good questions, and when we have so many urgent, nagging questions, we know that the Gospel is trying to teach us something.  So let’s get at it.

First of all, it’s important to know that this parable isn’t intended to be taken literally, of course.  We don’t want to draw a direct analogy here.  Don’t read it as saying, “If you don’t behave, God is going to put you to an ugly death, burn your city, and leave you to the place where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.”  Obviously, Jesus is using hyperbole here – he likes to employ literary devices to get our attention, and that’s exactly what it happening.  So even though we shouldn’t draw a direct analogy, we should sit up and take notice – that’s the whole point.

Let’s imagine the story happening in our day.  Suppose you were to receive an invitation from the President of the United States to attend the wedding of one of his children.  Regardless of how you may feel about the President, you’re probably somewhat unlikely to turn down the invitation.  You might have respect for the office, or a curiosity of how opulent an affair this would be, and you’re unlikely to get a better dinner offer.  Well that’s how the people in the story should have reacted to the invitation from the king, but they didn’t.  Instead they found all sorts of lame excuses, and some of them even went so far as to murder the messengers!

Jesus is speaking rather directly to the Jews, and especially to their leaders.  He is saying that they were the first to be invited.  But they had all sorts of excuses for not showing up to the banquet.  They couldn’t be bothered to turn away from the distractions of their lives to accept the invitation that was theirs by right.  Not only that, but along the way, some of them went so far as to murder the prophets who were the messengers of the invitation, so that they wouldn’t have to bear their reproach.  There could be no bigger affront to our King than to turn away so completely.  Therefore, Jesus says, the invitation goes out to all the world.

So what is this all about for us, then?  Well, here’s the message.  The marriage that is intended is the marriage of God to the world.  He longs for us to become one flesh with him, so that we can inherit the eternity of grace for which we were created.  And the banquet is, of course, the Eucharist, which celebrates that marriage and nourishes us to live the Gospel and carry the Cross and make our way to heaven, our true home.  That is the feast of rich food and choice wines that we hear of in today’s first reading. That invitation has been put out to all of us, wandering along wherever we might be on our life’s journey, and we have been told that the feast is ready for all of us, bad and good alike.  It means that no matter how far we have wandered, if we accept the invitation, we can join the banquet.

But at that glorious banquet, only certain attire is suitable.  That’s the whole meaning of the man who got bounced out of the banquet because he didn’t have on a wedding garment.  That garment, friends, is a genuine and rich relationship with God.  That wedding garment is a committed acceptance of relationship with Christ.  That wedding garment is firm purpose of amendment for our sins.  That wedding garment is a real acceptance of grace and allowing it to work in our lives.  We can’t be putting on the ugliness of the world: sin and immorality and self-concern.  If we love our sins more than we love our Jesus, we will be allowed to let that be our eternity, with all its wailing and grinding of teeth.  God forbid!

Instead, we must clothe ourselves with the wedding garment that is Christ Jesus.  None of our own garments are going to get us to heaven, but only the beauty of our Lord Jesus Christ, whose urgent desire is to make us one with our God.  We all know very well that it would have been just for our God to leave us off the invitation list entirely, distracted from him as we are, loving our sins as we do, unwilling to repent as we are sometimes.  But our God will do no such thing: instead he clothes us in our Lord at our Baptism, gives us feast of rich food and choice wines in the Eucharist, and invites us to become one with him in a wedding covenant that takes us to our eternal home.  Why on earth would we ever refuse that invitation?  How could we ever show up unadorned with the beauty of Christ?

And so in preparation for today’s Eucharist, maybe we can take some time in the offering to accept the invitation of our Lord and to put on Christ Jesus so that we might worthily partake of the Banquet.  Let’s pray with that right now.  Close your eyes and pray with me in your heart.

Loving God, we are so grateful that, despite our unworthiness and our unloveliness, you still have called us to your wedding banquet.  There is no way we could ever be deserving of such great love, but you freely offer it anyway, because you are love itself.  We are grateful that you desire to be wed with us and the world so that we can be forever with you.  The banquet feast of heaven is where we want to go, to spend eternity, and to live in you.  We confess that, sometimes, we have cast off our wedding garment, that garment of relationship with you that we received in Holy Baptism, in favor of putting on the filthy rags of this world.  We confess that, more often than we can bear to acknowledge, we have treasured our sins more than we have treasured your invitation.  We pray that you would not cast us out in the darkness, but instead that you would keep us in the light of your presence.  We pray that you would, by your ever-present grace and through your unfailing mercy, help us to don that perfect garment that is our relationship with you, and forever to cast aside our sins and the tattered ugliness of the world.  Forbid in your mercy that we would ever have to wail and grind our teeth in the darkness, and bring us back to perfect union with you in the bright glory of your kingdom.  For yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever.  Amen.

Homilies Ordinary Time

The Twenty-sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Whenever I start to hear this Gospel reading, I usually think, “Oh yeah, I know this one, about the Prodigal Son…” and then the story unfolds and that’s not it at all.  But reflecting on the story, there are certainly similarities.  The prodigal son certainly wasn’t wanting to do his father’s will.  He ran off on his own and, when things turned sour, he realize the grave error of his ways and returned home.  The other son in that story stayed and did the father’s work, but when he was invited in to the celebration, he objected and turned away.  Which one of them did the father’s will?

It’s not a perfect parallel and so the metaphor doesn’t really quite work, but you get the idea.  Both of these stories are about repentance, both of them are about God’s mercy, and both of them challenge the religious establishment of the time because they were not doing the Father’s will.

As we get to these late summer-early fall Liturgies of the Word, you might have noticed that there is a strong theme of God’s mercy, which invites repentance.  Three weeks ago, we heard about the concept of fraternal correction: if your brother sins, go to him, then if he doesn’t repent bring a few witnesses, and if that doesn’t work go to the church, and if that doesn’t work, well treat him as a Gentile or a tax collector.  I made the point that week that Jesus treated Gentiles and tax collectors with mercy and love, so again, we are talking about mercy.

The following week found Saint Peter trying to establish the rule on forgiveness.  How many times must I forgive my brother when he sins against me?  He thought seven times was pretty generous.  But Jesus took it a magnitude greater: not seven times, but seventy-seven times: in a word, forgive your brother all the time.  We disciples are called to great mercy.

Then last week, we had the parable of the day laborers, with those who worked just an hour getting paid as much as those who worked the whole day long.  The point was that God treats everyone the same: at whatever hour of one’s life a sinner returns to God, that sinner will find mercy, same as everyone else.

So here we are, with the sons called to go out into the vineyard to work.  One of them flat out says forget it, I have better things to do, but then later repents of his sloth and the horrible way he treated his father and went instead.  The other son who was eager to say he’d go, later found the prospect of work a little more than he could bear so he didn’t go at all.  Jesus parallels this story to, once again, tax collectors and prostitutes.  These horrible sinners are seeing the light and even though they rejected the message early on in their lives, they responded to God’s call, through Saint John the Baptist, and repented.  But the religious leaders did no such thing.  Despite their equal need for mercy, they refused it, and called to repentance just like the tax collectors and prostitutes, they continued on their merry way to perdition.

But we can’t be like them.  We disciples have heard the Word of God and we know better.  We have at our disposal many tools of grace: the Sacrament of Penance, the Holy Eucharist, counsel of the Church, and so much more.  We have to see our own need for mercy and respond.  What’s important for us to see here is this: God extends his mercy and forgiveness and grace and calling to us all the time. We may respond, I think, in one of four ways. First, we may say no, and never change, never become what God created us to be. This happens all the time because we as a people tend to love our sins and love our comfort more than we love God. We often think we can fix ourselves on our own, without need of God’s mercy.  Or we may even think that our lives are not important enough for God to be bothered with helping us, or that our sins are so big that there’s no way he’d want to.  And sometimes, we just plain would rather not be inconvenienced or challenged to grow.

A second response: we might also say no, but later be converted. That’s a little better. Let’s be clear: there is no time like the present, and we never know if we have tomorrow. But God’s grace doesn’t stop working on us until the very end. So we can have hope because God does not give up on us.  That was what the first son did in today’s Gospel reading.  That was somewhat like the action of the Prodigal Son as well.  Mercy and grace work on us all the time, and when we respond, it’s effective.

In a third response, we might say yes, with all good intentions of following God, being in relationship with him, and doing what he asks of us. But perhaps we get distracted by life, by work, by our sins, by relationships that are impure, or whatever. And then we never actually become what we’re supposed to be.  Maybe that was what happened with the second son in today’s reading.

Or, finally, we might actually say yes and actually do it, with God’s grace. We might be people who are always open to grace and work on our relationship with God. Then that grace can lead to a life of having become what God wanted of us.  When we say yes, whether it’s right away or after a change of heart like in today’s Gospel, the grace of that moemtn puts us on the path to sainthood, which is where we are all supposed to be.  The model for that, of course, would be the Blessed Virgin Mary, who was able to say “yes” to God’s plan for her and the world right away.  Saying “yes” to God might seem remote, particularly if you are struggling with habitual sin or addiction, but mercy holds the door open to sainthood all the time.  We just have to answer the door.

Today’s Gospel is a good occasion for a deep examination of conscience. Where are we on the spectrum?  Have we nurtured our relationship with God and said yes to his call, or are we somewhere else?  And if we’re somewhere else, what is it that we love more than God?  What do we have to do to get us on the right path?  We know the way of righteousness.  We know the path to heaven.  We just have to make up our minds and change our hearts so that we might follow Jesus Christ, our way to eternal life.

Homilies Lent

Friday of the Third Week of Lent

Today’s readings

“You are not far from the kingdom of God.”  That would be, I think, the most reassuring thing we could hear from our Lord!  To know that you’re on the right track — that your thoughts and heart’s desires are in line with God’s will — that would be a wonderful thing to know.  And today’s Scriptures give us the roadmap for finding that reassurance.

Step one is repentance. The prophet Hosea wrote of Israel’s repentance.  Israel, as a nation, as we well know, had turned away from the God of their ancestors Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  They had turned to the false gods of their neighbors and had worshipped idols.  Hosea’s prophecy had been all about calling them back, urging them to return to the Lord who loved his people and yearned for them like a spurned lover.  In today’s first reading, Hosea prophecies the promise that God will accept back his wayward lover and will restore the people of Israel to his own loved possession.

Step two is to hear the voice of God.  “If only my people would hear me,” the Psalmist says, “and Israel walk in my ways, I would feed them with the best of wheat, and with honey from the rock I would fill them.”  God longs to fill his faithful people with everything that they need to sustain life and live their faith.  All we have to do is hear his voice, to follow his commands, and walk in his ways.  This hearing the voice of God requires a steadfast faithfulness that will not be enticed by strange gods or flashy idols.  It’s important to note that we have to do step one first: we can’t hear God’s voice if we’re caught up in our sins.  There is a single-mindedness that is called for here: the faithful are called not to hear God as one voice among many, but to hear God alone.

And step three is love.  In today’s Gospel, Jesus famously boils the commandments down to two: love of God and love of neighbor.  Again, there is an underlying single-mindedness: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.”  Love of God and neighbor isn’t a third or fourth priority, if we ever get around to it.  Love is prime: love must the first inclination of the heart, the first thought of the mind, and the first action of life.

What does it take for us disciples to be not far from the Kingdom of God? It takes a Lent of repentance, a desire to hear and meditate on God’s Word and his presence in our lives, and then to love like there was nothing else to do in the whole world. I’ve been reflecting on the fact that this is the lentiest Lent I can ever remember, or want to have again! But the fact that we all have to keep social distance and stay home to contain COVID-19 gives us the opportunity to slow down, to quiet ourselves, and to make things right. And our Scriptures today give us a way to do all that.

Homilies Lent

Friday of the First Week of Lent

Today’s readings

Today’s readings remind us that Lent is no time for “business as usual.” It’s not enough for us to merely claim to be righteous, because righteousness, literally a right relationship, means that righteous actions must back our lofty words. And so today we are called to a righteousness that surpasses the scribes and Pharisees, a righteousness that goes beyond our words and our reputations and what we want people to think about us. The righteousness that Jesus calls us to today is a righteousness that starts where everything must, and that is in the heart.

Today’s Gospel comes from the somewhat scary “but I say to you” section of Matthew’s Gospel. Here, Jesus reiterates the teachings of Moses and then “kicks them up a notch.” That means that harsh words, grudges, anger, backbiting, gossiping and slander share equal dishonor with outright murder. They all, Jesus tells us, violate the fifth commandment, because they all start with the same murderous inclination of the heart. The one who has harbored these evil thoughts and actions must repent of them and seek reconciliation before offering his or her gift at the altar, or the offering will be tainted, ruined, and ultimately rendered sacrilegious.

Ezekiel’s prophecy in the first reading is good news for those of us who have gone astray. His prophecy holds out the possibility of a second chance for us sinners and calls us to a fundamental change of life. Even if we have been known for our wicked deeds, we have the opportunity to repent and change our hearts and lives. If we repent, God will forget our wickedness and treat us with mercy.

The Psalmist today rejoices in God who is trustworthy with his mercy and forgiveness. In this time of Lenten repentance, we can have confidence in our God who longs to bring us back:

For with the Lord is kindness

and with him is plenteous redemption;

And he will redeem [all of us]from all [our] iniquities.

Advent Homilies Sacrament of Penance

Advent Penance Service

Readings: Isaiah 30:19-26 | Psalm 27 | Matthew 3:1-12

How often do we all have sins that we would like to see go away and leave us alone already, but then go back and do the same things again?  We can’t just say, “oh, sorry” and then move on and never give our sins another thought.  But at the same time, we can’t dwell on them, either, or they’ll never leave us.  It’s a fine line we walk, for sure.  

Saint John the Baptist illustrates the issue.  At that time, it says that everyone was flocking to him: “Jerusalem, all Judea, and the whole region around the Jordan.”  They heard his call to repent and embrace the kingdom of heaven.  But apparently, also tagging along were a large number of Pharisees and Sadducees, and John saw that their repentance was not genuine.  He demands that they all produce good fruit as evidence of their repentance.

And well does he demand this, because repentance has to look like something.  It has to be metanoia: a complete change of mind and heart, really a turning around to head in a new direction.  It can’t be doing the same thing time after time and expecting something new to happen – that’s not how it works.  It’s important to see that this metanoia does NOT imply hanging on to our sins and feeling terrible about ourselves because of them.  Indeed, to really turn around, you have to let go of what’s binding you: surrender and renounce the sin and accept the grace of forgiveness.

That’s a very Advent-y disposition, really.  Advent is a time of expectation of something new, something uniquely wonderful, something world-shattering and life-changing.  In order to really enter into Advent, we have to be willing to be changed ourselves, to have our world shattered, so that we can make a place for the wonderful gift of Jesus to be born in our hearts.

God’s presence doesn’t require much: a stable and an empty manger will do.  But if we’ve used the manger to store up our past sins and our impure desires and our fear of real change, then Christ can’t enter in and give us grace and mercy.  We have to, have to, have to turn around, head in a different direction, renounce our past brokenness, and clear out the way for Jesus to be born in us and change our everything.

Which is what brings us here tonight.  Please God don’t let us be that brood of vipers that wants to put on the act of repentance, but help us really repent.  Help us to turn around and head in the direction the star points out to us, which will lead us to your presence in our lives, every time.

Thanks be to God he never stops looking for that empty manger in our hearts.

Homilies Lent Saints

Friday of the Fifth Week of Lent / Saint Patrick

Today’s readings

I used to be upset that Saint Patrick’s Day always happened during Lent.  I’d have to postpone the celebration of my favorite saint until Sunday, especially if it fell on a Friday, because we just didn’t have corned beef on Friday, you know.  But as I’ve grown older, I appreciate that Saint Patrick’s Day is in Lent, because I think Saint Patrick has a lot to say to us about Lent.

Lent, is a time of conversion and renewal of faith.  Saint Patrick’s life was one of conversion.  He wrote about that in his famous Confession, which was a work that talked all about his life of faith.  Listen to what he said at the beginning of it:  “And there the Lord opened my mind to an awareness of my unbelief, in order that, even so late, I might remember my transgressions and turn with all my heart to the Lord my God, who had regard for my insignificance and pitied my youth and ignorance.  And he watched over me before I knew him, and before I learned sense or even distinguished between good and evil, and he protected me, and consoled me as a father would his son.”

And so we have here a great story of conversion.  Because we are sinners too, right?  I think that it’s so important for us to see that the great saints didn’t start out that way.  They were sinners, but they just kept on trying to be better, to be holier, to come to know and love God more.  Saint Patrick writes of an unmentioned sin, dating from before he was ordained, even before he was living a Christian life.  The sin was apparently known to a friend of his – a friend who lobbied for him to become a bishop, and then later betrayed him to his superiors.  Patrick had long since moved on from where he was at the time this sin was committed, he is an older man now, looking back on the mistakes he made as a youth, and not bearing any ill-will toward those who would rub his nose in it, he thanks God for the strength he has since gained: “So I give thanks to the one who cared for me in all my difficulties, because he allowed me to continue in my chosen mission and the work that Christ my master taught me.  More and more I have felt inside myself a great strength because my faith was proven right before God and the whole world.”  It’s just like what we heard from Ezekiel in today’s first reading: If the wicked man turns away from all the sins he committed, if he keeps all my statutes and does what is right and just, he shall surely live, he shall not die. God wants us to turn back to him, always.

Saint Patrick had to weather so many storms in his life. He was kidnapped and enslaved, he worked in mission territory among people who at times were hostile to the Christian way of life, he was betrayed by a friend and besieged by fellow clergymen who were jealous of the success of his ministry and critical of the way he did it.  But through it all, he was grateful for the power of God at work in him.  The faith that led him to be that way was nourished on a strong friendship with God.

One of my favorite things that we have from Saint Patrick is known as the “Lorica” or “Breastplate” prayer.  Some say he didn’t actually write it, but I think he did, because it was the kind of thing that he would have written, given the faith that he had. It’s a great prayer of deliverance from evil and reliance on the power of God:

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through the belief in the threeness,
Through the confession of the oneness
Of the Creator of Creation.

I arise today
Through the strength of Christ’s birth with his baptism,
Through the strength of his crucifixion with his burial,
Through the strength of his resurrection with his ascension,
Through the strength of his descent for the Judgment Day.

I arise today
Through God’s strength to pilot me:
God’s might to uphold me,
God’s wisdom to guide me,
God’s eye to look before me,
God’s ear to hear me,
God’s word to speak for me,
God’s hand to guard me,
God’s way to lie before me,
God’s shield to protect me,
God’s host to save me
From snares of demons,
From temptations of vices,
From everyone who shall wish me ill,
Afar and anear,
Alone and in multitude.

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the threeness,
Through confession of the oneness,
Of the Creator of Creation.

What a wonderful prayer, a prayer that we would recognize Christ in every part of our day, no matter how little or big a thing we are doing. That we would recognize Christ in every person in our lives, and that we would recognize Christ wherever we are.

Advent Homilies

The Second Sunday of Advent

Today’s readings

Today’s Gospel reading is very interesting, I think. The beginning of the passage names important people at that particular time in Israel: Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate, Herod, Philip and Lysanias, and also the high priests: Annas and Caiaphas. Finally it names John the Baptist, who was, at that particular time in history, heralding the unveiling of God’s plan for salvation.  Luke does all this to say that, while the Word of the Lord came to John, who was pretty obscure, and many thought was crazy, still that Word came at a particular point in history, a time they could remember and observe.  God was getting real in their midst, and John wasn’t so much crazy as he was on fire.

His message was a message of change, which no one likes.  So it’s no wonder they labeled him crazy and made him take his message to the desert instead of the city and the temple precincts.  Better that than actually changing their lives.  That would be unthinkable!  But John’s message is clear.  God wanted to burst into their midst, and they we didn’t make changes, they were going to miss it.  It’s a message as pertinent and poignant now as it was then.

Because we are a people who could use some time in the desert.  Now, I don’t mean we should go to an actual desert or even take a trip to Las Vegas! I mean, we need to calm down and find some peace in our lives, because with all the craziness and busy-ness of our lives, we stand a pretty good chance of missing the Advent of our Savior as all the people back then did.  We might be just as impatient with a John the Baptist as the people were then.  Who wants to hear the word “repent?”  That means a real change in our lives that we are often not willing to make.

I remember several years ago when we first had the new Roman Missal.  It was Ash Wednesday, and one of those prayers changed too.  Instead of saying “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel,” we now say, “Repent and believe in the Gospel.”  I had not one but two people who were very angry with me when I said that to them.  That word “repent” hit a nerve and they were quick to protest that repenting was not something they needed to do.  But we all do, friends.  Me included. Repent means turning around and going in another direction.  Because we all get off track here and there in our lives.  Repent means turning back to God, our God who is waiting to break into our lives and be born among us this Advent.

John is really clear about what kind of repenting needs to be done.  If we are going to prepare a way for the Lord, we are going to have to make straight the winding roads: stop meandering all over the place, and walk with purpose to communion with the Lord.  We are going to have to fill in the valleys and level the mountains, because God doesn’t come in fits and spurts, showing up every now and then for a mountain top experience and then taking his leave when times bring you down.  He’s there always and forever.  We are going to have to make those rough ways smooth, because every time we’re jostled around on those rough roads, we stand the chance of getting thrown off the path.  We have to repent, to change, to become vessels in which our Lord can be born so that all flesh can see God’s salvation in us.

Wherever we are on the journey to Christ, whatever the obstacles we face, God promises to make it right through Jesus Christ – if we will let him. We may be facing the valley of hurts or resentments. God will fill in that valley. Perhaps we are up against a mountain of sinful behavior or shame. God will level that mountain. We may be lost on the winding roads of procrastination or apathy. God will straighten out that way. We may be riding along on the rough and bumpy ways of poor choices, sinful relationships and patterns of sin. God will make all those ways smooth. And all flesh – every one of us, brothers and sisters – we will all see the salvation of God. That’s a promise. God will forgive us all of our sins. But we have to be open to the experience.

And so, in the spirit of encouraging that openness, I want to make a very personal invitation. If you find that you have quite a bit of unfinished road construction to do in your spiritual life, I invite you to take care of it this Advent. The Sacrament of Penance is where we Catholics level those mountains, straighten those winding roads, and fill in the potholes that have derailed us along the way. And we have plenty of opportunities to do that. Every Saturday we have confessions at 3pm until all are heard. Next Saturday we also will be having them after the 7:30 morning Mass.  And finally, on Sunday the 23rd, we will have several priests to hear your confession after the 12:15 Mass until all are heard. So you have many opportunities to be open to the “baptism of repentance” that John the Baptist was preaching, and to make the way straight once again for the coming of the Lord in your own life.

The truth is, brothers and sisters in Christ, we come to this holy place to this sacred Liturgy, each of us at different places in the spiritual road. Our goal – all of us – is to advance on that road, tackling the obstacles that face us, and defeating our sin by the power of God’s forgiveness and mercy. There may only be one unforgivable sin: the sin of thinking that we don’t need a Savior. When we rationalize that we’re basically good people and we’re okay and that there is nothing wrong with our lives or our relationships, then we’re lost. It’s not that God doesn’t want to forgive us this sin, it’s more that we refuse to have it forgiven. If Advent teaches us anything, it’s got to be that we all need that baptism of repentance that John the Baptist preached, that we all need to prepare the way of the Lord in our hearts, making straight the paths for his coming in our lives.