Sunday, November 30, 2014

Nov. 30, 2014: 1st Sunday of Advent, Year A

Click to hear audio homily
Do you have a favorite place that you like to visit over and over? Perhaps each time you go there, you experience something different. One couple’s favorite place is a small town in Croatia called Medjugorje where Blessed Mother has been appearing since the early 1980’s. During the past 30 years, they traveled separately as pilgrims many times to that town; a few years ago, though, they traveled as a married couple for the first time. They had high expectations on that pilgrimage. They expected many spiritual blessing from their trip, for their second marriage late in life was beginning to mature. They wanted to thank God and Blessed Mother for bringing them together in marriage. All of us, too, mark a new beginning each year in some way. Perhaps our new beginning is on January 1 each year as we make our new year’s resolution. Other new beginnings each year may be on a wedding anniversary, an ordination to priesthood (or solemn vow to religious life), birthdays, or even the anniversary of the death of a loved one. As we celebrate an anniversary, we experience it afresh in a different way. We have grown or matured in some way, gaining new insights and deepening our resolve and commitments.

This Sunday, our church invites us to begin again a great pilgrimage. Last Sunday marked the end of the liturgical year with our firm faith in Jesus as Christ the King. Today the Church invites us to follow anew in the footsteps of Jesus. In the course of our new liturgical year, the whole of his life and teachings will pass before us. We will  re-visit all the mysteries of his time on earth: from his expectation of arrival, to his birth, to his life, death, resurrection, ascension into heaven, and his sending of the Holy Spirit.

No spouse wants to hear that the upcoming wedding anniversary is just another same thing. How would God feel if we take that attitude about the events in Jesus’ life? In the course of this new liturgical year, we will relive Jesus’ whole story. We may say to ourselves that we have heard the story many times before. Hence, there is a danger that we may see it as old, stale, and trite. But, we must try and see it as new and present and alive. Prophet Isaiah in the First Reading cries out to God our inherent weakness to take Him for granted. “You, LORD, are our father, our redeemer you are named forever. Why do you let us wander, O LORD, from your ways, and harden our hearts so that we fear you not?” Our Lord tells us a simple prescription as he says, “Be watchful! Be alert!” The celebration of each feast brings back the event in its original clarity and vitality. To view each moment of Jesus’ life as cold and lifeless is as if we are reading a fiction novel.  The mysteries of Christ’s life are represented in such a way that we should be drawn into them, and become participants in them. That makes it more demanding, but more enriching and exciting too. God is not just a God of the past, but of the present and the future. St. Paul in the Second Reading gives us another prescription--gratitude. “I give thanks to my God always on your account for the grace of God bestowed on you in Christ Jesus,that in him you were enriched in every way…”

On the anniversary of my priestly ordination, I take out the photo book and thumb through the photos and ponder the graces that God poured into my life to bring me to the point of ordination. Do you look through your photo book on the day of your anniversary? Do you marvel at how you have grown or matured since the last anniversary? Do you thank God for that?

Regarding the couple that I mentioned at the beginning of the homily who took a trip together to Medjugorje, they did not have the spiritually peaceful and enriching experience they anticipated. As they climbed Mount Krizevac, which they had done many times, the husband slipped at the top of the mountain and broke his ankle. It had taken 45 minutes to climb up the mountain, and with the husband’s injury, the couple did not know how they would descend the mountain. Providentially, men in their pilgrimage group came to their rescue, hoisting her husband slowly down the rocky mountain. For the rest of their pilgrimage, they were stuck in their lodging, with no medical care available. They questioned God why they were experiencing such pain and suffering. What was suppose to be a familiar trip with familiar itinerary, unraveled into unexpected and unfamiliar. The only thing this couple could do, thousands of miles away from home, was to pray, to trust, and to hope. It was a graced opportunity for this couple to grow spiritually. One of the messages that Blessed Mother gave in Medjugorje echoed this opportunity, “Dear children! I desire that your cross also would be a joy for you. Especially, dear children, pray that you may be able to accept sickness and suffering with love the way Jesus accepted them. Only that way shall I be able with joy to give out to you the graces and healings which Jesus is permitting me.”

How about you? Are you also ready to be watchful and be alert in this new liturgical year to receive God’s grace? Each year we ought to hear Christ’s story better, understand it more deeply, and make it more our own. In hearing his story we ought to hear our own stories too. Our stories merge with his and we are illuminated by it. His story enables us to live our own story more fully and more joyfully. Even though we've made the journey before, we must try to embark on it today as if for the very first time. This Sunday is a God-given chance to make a new beginning in our following of Christ.