Lift up your heads. Your redemption is at hand. (Luke 21:28)
Why do we keep the season of Advent? To prepare ourselves spiritually to celebrate Christmas.
How do we prepare ourselves spiritually to celebrate Christmas? Try to pray more. Make a good Confession. Go to Father Mark’s Advent talks with Vespers and Benediction on Sunday afternoons. Yes. But there’s more.
Who celebrated Christmas in the right way, the way we want to imitate? Saints Zechariah and Elizabeth, St. Joseph, Our Lady, the shepherds in the fields near Bethlehem. In other words, we want to celebrate Christmas like the poor, faithful people of ancient Israel who longed for redemption.
A massive spiritual problem we face: “Christmas” obviously is a household word. Everybody spends December thinking about Christmas. But there can be a big difference between thinking about Christmas and longing for redemption.
Your unworthy servant customarily delivers little talks during the seasons of Advent and Lent.
The talks for Advent this year will attempt to communicate the teachings of Gaudium et Spes, Vatican II’s Constitution on the Church in the Modern World.
All are welcome at St. Joseph church in Martinsville, Va., at 4:00 p.m. on the next four Sundays. We will also celebrate Vespers together, with Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament and Benediction.
In the event that you might be interested in perusing the notes for the talks, I thought I would publish them here, one at a time. Click away for Gaudium et Spes Notes 1.
…Here’s a homily for St. Andrew Day:
The Apostles received the commission to preach to everyone about Jesus and to baptize all who believed.
Sounds simple, and it is.
But, of course, the Apostles received their commission as Jews; their Lord, the Son of God, had lived the life of a faithful Jew; the Jewish people had a long history of direct dealings with God; and the salvation of the human race had been worked by none other than Yahweh of the Jews—Whose people, everyone knew, had highly unusual customs, not all of which could just be lightly thrown aside, since they had been the customs of the Son of God, customs which He had infused with full meaning by celebrating them Himself.
Hence the need to focus, and re-focus, and focus again on precisely what Jesus had commissioned the Apostles to do. With what exact task did He commission the patriarchs of His New Covenant? To distribute the graces of His work–all of which graces are based on faith in Him, in Jesus.
And to have faith in Jesus Christ means believing completely in the Old Testament, as well as the New. It means understanding the Old Testament for what it is, namely the account of the preparations for the coming of the fullness of time.
And it means understanding the New Testament for exactly what it is, namely the written documents left by the Apostles during the first generation of the life of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, governed by St. Peter and his successors in office.
Salvation by faith? Yes, of course. But not faith in anything vague, not faith in anything that my own imagination has produced, or that the imagination of any other mortal has produced. Faith in the actual, true God—triune, attested-to infallibly by the Sacred Scriptures in their entirety, fully revealed in the Person of the man from Nazareth, Whose grace we receive in the Church governed by the Pope.
After almost ten years as a priest, you would think that I might have noticed before now that:
We read my two favorite sentences of Holy Scripture within eight days of each other every two years, in the weekday lectionary.
Last Wednesday, we read my second-favorite sentence of the Bible: “You knew that I was a demanding man.”
We know; it is simply a matter of recognizing reality, as plain as the noses on our faces. The cross weighs more than 100 pounds. If you want to get to heaven, you have to sleep little and on a hard surface. You have to get up before the sun rises and bathe in cold water. You have to endure protracted periods of fruitless silence, stay five steps ahead of all the lazy worldlings, read widely enough and deeply enough so that creative thoughts come to you while staring out the window. You have to love everybody, forgive everybody, and do everything for the love of the unseen God. He is demanding, and He holds all the cards.
They were holding God’s harps, and they sang the song of Moses. (Revelation 15:2-3)
The chapters of the book of Revelation which precede the passage read at today’s Mass narrate the struggle between the evil forces marked with the sign of the beast and the chaste legions marked with the name of the Lamb. In these chapters, the last book of the Bible’s mystical account of the great drama of salvation nears its climax.
Now, when we keep the Vigil of Easter in the springtime, we generally sing a good number of psalms and canticles. But let’s just say we couldn’t sing all those psalms, for some reason. Let’s say we had to celebrate the Easter Vigil quickly, because we were on a battlefield, or in jail.
There is one of the Vigil canticles that we absolutely, positively have to sing, no matter what. Without this one particular Old Testament canticle, it is impossible to grasp the full meaning of the holy night of Easter.
Here’s a hint: Sing to the Lord! He has covered Himself in glory!
Who sang this? Moses and the people with him. They sang it because God had covered Himself in glory by doing what?
Casting Pharaoh’s horses and chariots into the sea. Delivering the Israelites from slavery. Leading them forward to the Promised Land.
The Sacred Scriptures make clear the full meaning of the ancient Passover of the Israelites. We read from the book of Revelation: The harpists standing on the sea of glass, who had won victory over the beast: They sang the song of Moses. Great and wonderful are your works, Lord God Almighty!
Faith turns the strife and drama of life on earth into a hopeful pilgrimage. Christ our Passover has been sacrificed for us. He has risen and has ascended on high, to the pinnacle of the heavenly Mt. Zion. When Moses sang, he really sang about us; he sang about the chosen ones who believe in the victory of the Son of God. The Lord will deliver us from all evil, and the eternal Promised Land awaits. Therefore we keep the feast.
Christ has born faithful witness to the great and enduring truth. We need to grasp this truth, if we are to make any sense out of our lives. But we could never have figured it out, if Jesus had not born faithful witness to it and testified to it.
Christ bore witness faithfully. In other words, he testified without swerving, without fudging, without prevaricating, without betraying the truth. That Christ bore ‘faithful’ witness does not mean that He testified to His own personal “faith.” He testified to what He knows and has always known, namely God. Christ knows the great, enduring, and transcendent truth. He knows; we believe. We have faith in the knowledge of Christ.
With me? Good. Now, how did Christ bear faithful witness? How did He testify to the mysterious truth of God?
Does anyone ever waste their God-given talents on purpose? Does anyone ever say to him- or herself, “Look at this. I can do this or that very well, and I love doing it. God gave me these special powers to serve Him and give Him glory by helping others. So I decide here and now not to do that, but to become a bumbling, incompetent elevator repairman instead. Because I know I will suck at it.”
No. People do not generally engage in such perverse decision-making reflections.
Usually, when someone wastes his or her talents, it is because something else gets in the way. Like paranoia. Or pride. Or stubbornness. Or jealousy. Or laziness. Or substance abuse. Or vanity. Or video games.
A hard man, yes. God relentlessly makes the sun rise and gives us chance after chance after chance to get over ourselves and do something worthwhile. If I can manage to be realistic with myself for even five minutes, I can almost always come up with something good in which to participate today. Then–as Woody Allen so wisely put it–if I show up, I have completed 90% of what I need to do in order to succeed.
Problem is, being reasonable with ourselves is a trick. Because I can so easily convince myself that: What I have to offer isn’t good enough. Or that so-and-so will certainly ruin everything. Or that the whole thing is really just too much to deal with.
It all would be too much to deal with—if we launched ourselves out into the world without trust in God. If we couldn’t be sure that the Lord has a perfect plan to bring the good work begun in me to completion. If we didn’t know that, first and foremost, we are His beloved children, and we please Him best by being ourselves and letting the haters gape.
You knew I was a hard man when you folded up your gold coin in a napkin. You were afraid. Of what? Were you afraid of something more terrible than the wrath of the one who gave you the gold coin in the first place? What could be more terrible?
Did the one who invested and made a ten-fold profit—did he think the Master was a hard man, an unfair man? Maybe he knew the truth, which the napkin-man also knew but was too timorous to meditate on.
Maybe the one who made a ten-fold profit knew that if his own ingenious schemes happened to fail, the scene would unfold like this:
“Master, listen. I think you know that I left it all on the court. [Just like the Georgetown Hoyas did last night!] I gave it my best shot. But your gold coin is gone. I had gained eight, but then I put them into this great plan I had, and, well…I lost them all.”
He knew that if he had had to say this, the Master would have said, “Son, I know what you did. I’m proud of what you tried to accomplish. Here’s ten coins. Go and take another crack at it.”
[Click HERE for a post about the august anniversary celebrated today.]
News from Brooklyn: Hoyas beat top-20 UCLA Bruins, advancing to the championship game of the non-tournament Legends Classic tournament. Which means we play currently-AP #1 Indiana Hoosiers tonight at 10:00 pm!
…Rooting through a few old things, I found a sonnet from last year’s parish-clustering negotiations. I think the loopy pastor may have written it:
How do I love the cluster? Let me count
the ways, like Will Shakespeare of old would do.
The first: a five-speed, four-wheel steed to mount
and burn the road between the parishes two.
The second? These two fine towns to explore:
Both Piedmont villes, of character diverse.
In one, lake and farm folk both shop the stores.
The other is the NASCAR hero’s nurse.
Throughout the rolling counties, I descry
fertile fields for the sewing of the seed,
and a band of eager discipulae,
attentive to our Church’s every need.
O Lord, how great You are in every act!
May we, like You, great many souls attract.
Which reminds me that a few ridiculous poems have appeared here. I herewith collect links for your possible amusement.
*I defy anyone to come up with a location on earth where a person can take in a more magnificent vista than can be taken in on McAfee Knob, in Roanoke County, Va. Perhaps other prospects equal it. Perhaps. P.S. FYI: More miles of the Appalachian Trail in the state of Virginia than in any other state! More than 500. No other state comes close.
Everyone seems to agree on the fact that the end will come. Sometimes our lives fall into a dull routine, a seemingly endless, profitless monotony that stretches ahead of us like a dark tunnel. But no one seriously doubts that it will, in fact, end. The disputed points are: how and when.
How will it end? Will a sudden environmental disaster overwhelm the earth? Will we all die gradually of disease or natural causes and vanish into oblivion? Will the Mayan apocalypse annihilate everything?
Let’s remember. Which book of the Old Testament? Right. Genesis. Lot was whose nephew? Right. Abraham.
Abraham and Lot travelled toward the Promised Land together. Both had very large flocks, so they needed to separate. Lot chose to live on the plain south of the Dead Sea. Which cities were located in that region?
Right. Sodom and Gomorrah.
Meanwhile, Abraham pleased God by his… Faith! God visited Abraham with two angels in tow and chose Abraham as the patriarch of the holy nation, the People of God. Contrast this with: the unholy activities of the citizens of Sodom.
Abraham, being a reverent man who always knelt before the great mysteries of divine justice and the sacredness of human life, begged that the Lord would spare Sodom if only five righteous people could be found dwelling there.
But, alas, five were not to be found. To the contrary, the whole city came out to try to rape God’s angels! Yeesh.
So the fire and brimstone were coming; the sky was getting ready to rain down some serious hard justice. But, because Lot a) lived outside the city walls as a herdsman and abhorred even the idea of sodomy, and b) because he was somebody’s nephew… Right! Abraham’s—for these two reasons, Lot and his family were to be spared.
The angels literally took them all by their hands, like little children, to lead them to safety. The guardian angels made one proviso: Whatever you do, don’t… Look back!
Sure, all your familiar territory will be laid waste; sure, your acquaintances, in-laws, confreres, and tradesmen will all be lost to you forever; sure, this is all happening very suddenly.
But the Lord provides. Don’t look back. Just rush forward with all the speed you can muster to the unknown future the Lord has in store for you.
But somebody looked back… Right. Why? Do the Scriptures tell us why she looked back? Yes: Wisdom 10:7. The pillar of salt is the tomb of a soul that had no… faith.
Remember Lot’s wife. She had no faith in the unseen God. She hankered for the city where she could get the internet, watch t.v., eat, drink, and be merry with the footloose-and-fancy-free people. Therefore, she did not make it.
The people who made it, on the other hand, ran into the empty desert at full speed. Simply because God had told them that He had a home for them there, just over the horizon.