Saturday, December 10, 2016

Dec. 11, 2016: 3rd Sunday of Advent A

Dec. 11, 2016: 3rd Sunday of Advent A

Click to hear Audio Homily
Among the selfies or photos of yourself, is there one that captures your joy? What were you doing that you felt so much joy in that photo? A prominent portrait artist known for creating paintings and sculptures of American presidents was recently commissioned to paint a portrait of a woman who died almost 20 years ago. He said this about trying to capture the essence of that woman, “Everyone’s face shows their history. Hers is a face that has seen a lot of daylight and work, and that’s completely reflected in her actual likeness, but what contrasts with that harsher physical visage is the warmth of her eyes and expression, that inner glow. That’s what makes it such an appealing face.” His finished painting was used as the basis for the large tapestry unfurled from the facade of St. Peter’s Basilica in September this year as Pope Francis declared Mother Teresa a saint. Upon seeing the painting, a laywoman who had known Mother Teresa over many years said, “It’s a beautiful likeness of Mother Teresa, and I see the joy radiating from her and Jesus’ love. I really do see that sparkle in her eyes and her smile.”

What was the source of Mother Teresa’s joy? It was Jesus. Mother said, “A joyful heart is the normal result of a heart burning with love. It is the gift of the Spirit, a share in the joy of Jesus, living in the soul.” Today’s entrance antiphon for the mass reflects Mother’s joy, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Indeed, the Lord is near.” (Philippians 4:4-5) And the Opening Prayer asked that we, “who look forward to the birthday of Christ, experience the joy of salvation and celebrate that feast with love and thanksgiving.” We are ever closer to the day of the arrival of Our Lord. So we also call this Sunday the Sunday of Joy--Gaudete Sunday.

John the Baptist figures again prominently in today’s gospel. People went out to the desert, ready to honor John as the messiah. Yet John insisted that he was only the best man at a wedding. While it certainly is an honor to be chosen as “best man,” we all know that the best man does not get the bride. According to Jewish custom, the best man’s role was to bring the bride to the bridegroom, and then make a tactful exit. John the Baptist found joy in this role. Despite being jailed in prison he proclaimed that his joy was full and that Christ must increase and that John himself must decrease.

John the Baptist and Mother Teresa prepared themselves for the task of welcoming and introducing Christ to others, by a life of self-mortification, prayer, and self-gift. They both taught that the first essential step for meeting Christ, and profiting by his coming, is silence of the heart. John the Baptist went out into the desert while Mother Teresa turned to spending time before the Lord in silent prayer wherever she was even in the middle of busy city streets. When we look at our lives, have we sought that silence to listen to Our Lord? Even today, John the Baptist, Mother Teresa and all the angels and saints are calling us to prepare ourselves for Christ’s coming this Christmas. We are not being asked to wear rough camel-hair dress and eat nothing but locus and wild honey. Each one of us must look within our lives and work on eliminating that which keeps us from seeing Christ in all whom we meet. Have we used this Advent to deepen our relationship with Christ or have we used it to decorate, shop and over indulge? There is time in this season to do both… we can pray and reflect on our life in Christ, and then celebrate the joy we feel from growing in our relation with Christ through loving service to our family, friends and those in our wider community. Let us especially remember to reach out beyond our comfort zone, go beyond our familiar friends, to help make this a brighter season for someone who has no means to celebrate this holy season.

Each time we witness a return to the original spirit of the Gospel, to pure, unadulterated, courageous following of Jesus in poverty, humility, simplicity and trust, happiness and the joy of the children of God are seen to come to life again in us. Mother Teresa said joy comes from loving as Christ loves, helping as Christ helps, and giving as Christ gives. We are called to prepare the way for Jesus to come into other people’s hearts so that they, too, may “experience the joy of salvation.” In the next ten days before Christmas, what can we do concretely to help others encounter Jesus through our example?