1st Sunday of Advent. December 1, 2019.
Is 2:1-5; Rom 13:11-14; Mt 24:37-44
Cultivating a docile heart at Advent
I was both sad and surprised to hear from a parish priest that one of his female parishioners threatened to leave the Catholic Church because of what she described as a homophobic homily that I had preached in the parish some weeks earlier during Sunday Mass. What did I say in the homily that infuriated her so much? I had simply reminded the congregation that we Christians are first called in our sinful world today to radical conversion, closeness with Christ, and to pray and sacrifice for the conversion of other sinners. It so happened that the example that I had used to illustrate the need for our prayer and sacrifices was the many Gay Pride parades where our brothers and sisters boldly and obstinately flaunted and celebrated their homosexual lifestyles in the very face of God.
Three things about this parishioner and her threat to leave the Church because of a homily calling for conversion and prayers. First, she obviously came to Mass to worship God. Second, she wanted to worship God but she did not want to be instructed. Third, she left the Mass not with peace but with anger at challenging words of hopeful truth.
We too forfeit divine peace when we try to worship God without that docility that makes us ready and willing to be instructed, trained, formed, and led by God. Our worship of God, if it is authentic, is always accompanied by divine instruction, God summoning us to abandon our old selfish ways and to embrace lives more appropriate for life with Him. When we are docile enough to listen, learn, and respond to divine instructions, we become people of peace who radiate that peace to others.
The worshippers that the Prophet Isaiah prophesied will come from all the nations to the mount of Jerusalem to worship God in the temple were excited to both worship God and to be instructed by Him in His laws. They exclaimed, “Come, let us climb the Lord’s mountain, to the house of the God of Jacob, that He may instruct us in His ways, and we may walk in His paths.” Israel was to be a nation wherein God instructed all the nations in living God-like lives, “For from Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.” The divine reward for their faithful worship and fidelity to God’s instructions was peace within and outside their borders, “They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; one nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again.”
We worship our God present to us in Jesus Christ, the one who “reflects the glory of God and bears the very stamp of His nature, upholding the universe by His words of power.”(Heb 1:3) We are transformed by His Spirit into His image as we worship Him, “And we all with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into His likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”(2Cor 3:18) This same Spirit of transformation also instructs and inspires us to live like Christ and for Christ, “Anyone who has this hope in Him makes himself pure just as He is pure.”(1Jn 3:3) The Spirit leads us to participate in Christ’s own docility to the Father, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing on His own accord; but only what He sees the Father doing; for whatever He does, that the Son does likewise.”(Jn 5:19) Lastly, the Spirit brings us to be instruments of peace to the extent that we are docile to His instructions, “Peace be with you…Receive the Holy Spirit.”(Jn 20:21,22)
Advent is a time of waiting in expectant hope for the coming of Christ at the end of time. Sadly, we only think of Jesus Christ coming at “an hour we do not expect” because we think He really plans to sneak up on us when we least expect Him and find us unprepared. Will Jesus really be thrilled to catch us unprepared when He returns in glory? On the contrary, Christ comes to us at every moment of our lives to instruct us in our Christian life with Him so that we may be ready to welcome Him when He comes at the end of time.
We cannot wait in expectation for Christ if we do not desire His coming in glory; and we cannot desire His coming in glory if we are not docile in following the instructions that He offers us for Christ-centered and Christ-like living. This is why St. Paul counsels the Romans to prepare for Christ’s return by “casting out the works of darkness.., putting on the Lord Jesus Christ and making no provision for the desires of the flesh.” Advent is not just about waiting for Christ’s return but a period of training in docility to recognize and welcome Christ in His glorious return.
Jesus teaches that even Noah’s ark was meant to be instructive to the people of the time that there was a deluge to come, “For as it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.” But they remained deaf to this instruction as they were engrossed in “eating, drinking, marrying and giving in marriage.”
My dear brothers and sisters who worship Christ as God in the flesh, we must never forget that our worship of God must be complemented by our docility to His instructions to us. The living God we worship is constantly instructing us through His inspirations and words, through our time of prayer, the authoritative teaching of the Church, the gentle promptings of our well-formed consciences, and the events and circumstances of our lives. He does all this because He wants us to have His peace in our hearts and in our world through our hearts, “My peace I give to you, not as the world gives do I give to you.”(Jn 14:27)
One sad phenomenon in the Church today is a reluctance to instruct in love. We clergy are so caught up with public opinion and acceptance that we dare not instruct the flock entrusted to our care with the sound teachings of the Church. The many heretical teachings from clergy should make us question how much of our Lord’s instructions we even believe in the first place. The flock too today appear to have become allergic to any form of challenging instructions concerning faith and morals that is in line with scripture and tradition. We are more concerned in affirming and accepting ourselves no matter our lifestyles that we lose the sense of the Transcendent One in our midst and the duty we owe to Him, “How can you believe, who receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?”(Jn 5:44)
The Church is always Mater et Magister, our faithful Mother and Teacher. But with our reluctance and refusal to instruct properly, the Church fails to evangelize the culture and has become as confused as the culture itself. We appear to be a worshipping Church that lacks docility and openness to divine instructions. The lingering financial and sexual scandals show us that the Church is fast forfeiting that peace that Christ won for her.
Jesus, our Teacher, commanded us thus: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”(Mt 28:19,20) He never said that we or our teaching would be accepted and applauded by the world. He never said that we would live up perfectly to what we teach either, even though we ought to do so. But He offers us His mercy and grace to continue to instruct others by words and actions about Him and His saving Gospel until He returns in glory.
The Eucharist is of course the perfect worship of the Church, a participation in Christ’s own perfect worship, the place where we are instructed by Him who is the source of “grace and truth.”(Jn 1:17) If we still lack peace in our hearts, families, Church and communities, if we fail to communicate this peace to others, then we must pause and ask ourselves how docile we are to divine instructions as we worship God in this Mass.
Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!