1st Sunday of Advent. December 2, 2018.
Jer 33:14-16; 1 Thes 3:12-4:2; Lk 21:25-28,34-36
Our striving for holiness in the Advent Season
St. Teresa of Calcutta was once asked about her sanctity and how she attained such heights of holiness. She replied, “Holiness is not the privilege of a few but a calling to all.”
Reflecting on all our past sins and failures, our inability to rise above some spiritual or personal problems in our lives, our repeated failures, our dread of the challenges ahead for us, and the feeling of discouragement that constantly knocks on our hearts, the words of this saint about us all being called to holiness may appear as something impossible for us. We ask ourselves doubtfully, “Can I be holy after all my sins and failures in life?”
The truth remains that we are all called to holiness, holiness is not impossible, and we all can be holy no matter our sins and failings of the past, the challenges ahead for us, or the painful memories of our failures. We can still be holy because holiness is not something that we do or achieve or what others confer on us. Holiness is first and foremost what God does in us and how we freely respond to the effects of God’s actions in our lives.
As we begin this holy season of Advent, we read how St. Paul reminds the Thessalonians to prepare for the “coming our Lord with all His holy ones” by their striving for holiness. But this holiness is not something that they are to achieve by their own effort but primarily it is allowing the love of God to take root first in their hearts. It is this love of God that strengthens our hearts for holiness, “May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all…, so as to strengthen your hearts, to be blameless in holiness before our God and Father.” Holiness becomes a reality for us when we allow this divine love to strengthen our hearts to the point that we respond by “conducting ourselves to please God in all things.”
We are all destined by God to reach a certain degree of holiness in this life based on our gifts that God has bestowed on us. By divine grace, all our circumstances in life, all our life experiences, and, of course, God’s enduring love for each and every one of us at each and every moment of our lives, are the means by which God brings us to the degree of holiness that we are created for. The more we are faithful in striving and attaining the degree of sanctity that God has willed for each of us, receiving and responding to divine love with actions aimed at pleasing God alone, the more that we experience that inner strength that comes from an invincible hope in the life to come.
Jesus describes in today’s Gospel the two responses to the distressing and troubling signs that will accompany His return in glory. There will be those who, seeing these signs, will “die of fright in anticipation of what is coming upon the world.” These are those who, during their earthly life, took divine love for granted, who did not respond in consistent action to the movement of divine grace and thus whose hearts lacked the spiritual strength needed to face those dreadful moments. Ignoring the call to holiness and settling for mediocrity and even sin, rejecting or being complacent towards the divine love that makes holiness possible, they are hopelessly paralyzed by fear.
Then there will be those who have let divine love strengthen and purify their heart for holiness. Constantly striving for holiness, they are filled with so much hope that they will look beyond the signs of the coming disasters, and they will “stand erect and raise their heads because their redemption is at hand.” They are so filled with divine love and so intent on continuously responding to this love to the point that “this perfect love has cast out all fear.”(1Jn 4:18)
My dear brothers and sisters, which of these two groups are we going to belong to? If we are living in fear of the glorious return of Christ, then we must stop and ask ourselves if we are striving for the degree of holiness that God is calling us today. Are we receiving and treasuring the gift of divine love for us all or are we doubting or questioning this love for us based on our past sins and failures, present struggles, or future challenges? Are we constantly receiving the merciful love of Jesus that heals us of our sins in the Sacrament of Confession? Are we receiving the love of Jesus that transforms and strengthens us in the Eucharist?
Secondly, how consistently are we striving to respond to this love? Responding to divine love means seeking to do and endure all things so as to please Him and not ourselves. All things – our live of prayer, relationships, work, service, worship, and even our striving for holiness – should be done primarily to please God. Our holiness demands our striving to please God alone because “God is (truly) at work in us, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.”(Phil 2:13)
Jesus warns us that His return in glory will be a day that will “assault everyone who lives on the face of the earth.” He does not want us to live in fear of that day but to be courageous through a life of vigilance and prayer, “Be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength … to stand before the Son of Man?” Our reception of divine love and our own response begins with an intense life of prayer, a prayer in which we encounter the only Holy One, listen to His words, experience His love for us, repent of our sins, and begin again the journey to holiness no matter the past failures.
Jesus is the God who remains with us always, the God of the continuous Advent, who always comes to us with the gift of His love to prepare us for His second and glorious return when He will come to judge both the living and the dead. He offers us in today’s Eucharist the only thing that makes us holy – His love for us so that we begin again and persevere in personal holiness. Let us renew in this Advent season our journey to holiness so that our hearts are strong enough – strong enough to overcome all things in this life and, at the end of time, strong enough to also “stand before the Son of Man.”
Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!