To Heal the Brokenhearted

(Homily for Third Sunday in Advent, Year B)

When I was a young man, someone told me, “Treat each person you meet as if he recently had his heart broken – and you will probably be right.” Those words stuck with me, although I have not always put them in practice.* I can excuse myself by saying I was distracted or irritated or just plain weary. Or perhaps I was too preoccupied with with my own hurts to see theirs. The truth is all of us need someone to help put our hearts back together - and we have a hard time finding such a healer.

Today Isaiah foretells one “anointed,” that is, designated, “to heal the brokenhearted.” Many people thought John was that man. But he makes it clear he is not the Christ (which in Greek means “anointed”). Nor, as some New Age folks imagine, was he the reincarnation of Elijah. (Jn 1:21) Rather he came to make a straight path for the One to come.

Last week I spoke to you about the importance of acknowledging ones sins. And we saw how John required confession in order to receive his water baptism. John is the greatest of all prophets because he identified our wound – not just as something inflicted on us, but as self-inflicted. Nevertheless, it would not do much good to recognize the cause of our misery unless there existed healing, to admit our failures unless there existed forgiveness.**

John, as great as he was, sensed that someone much greater was coming. John had the diagnosis, but this one possesses the cure. He is the cure – forgiveness and healing in his very person. Because of him, Paul can say those incredible words, “Rejoice always.” (1 Thes 5:16)

Those words do not come easy to my lips. Last week a family in our parish lost their daughter in a terrible fire. To say such words to them would sound like mockery. Nor can I say them to people who share with me their hidden sufferings. But, writing to people who suffered as much or more than we do, St. Paul does say, “Rejoice always.”

What I dare not express verbally, I will at least try to do with a symbol. This Sunday we light the rose candle of our Advent wreath. It signifies rejoicing. Though we come to the Lord with hearts broken – in some degree by our own faults – we look toward the one who is forgiveness and healing.

************

*Like most people I imagine myself to be very compassionate, but when someone contradicts me, my empathy often vanishes - and an uglier person emerges. Exaggerated claims of empathy ("unconditional acceptance") permeate our culture, especially popular psychology. For a wicked satire of those claims, see The Unaborted Socrates by Peter Kreeft.

**Although this at first appears obvious, even axiomatic, it has enormous implications, especially in the context of our current crisis. In The Courage to Be Catholic George Weigel challenges those who assert, "This is our Church, and we need to take it back." Against that view he quotes a young Jesuit:

"The Church is not our to take back because it never belonged to us, and the instant we make it 'our own' we are damned. No merely human institution, no matter how perfectly pure and gutsy and dutiful its members, can take away even a venial sin. That is the point St. Paul takes sixteen chapters to get across to the Romans." (p. 228)

Versión Castellana

From Archives (Third Sunday of Advent, Year B):

2014: Preparing Our Hearts Week 3
2011: Joy is a Decision
2008: Too Serious to Take Seriously
2005: The Secret of Happiness
2002: To Heal the Brokenhearted

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