Message: The first step in preparing our hearts is silence so we can see God at work in the unexpected and awkward moments.
Last week I gave you Archbishop Sartain's book: An Advent Pilgrimage. From its subtitle I take the theme for our Advent homilies - "Preparing Our Hearts." Preparing our hearts for Jesus. I begin by asking, What is the heart? Obviously I am referring to something more than the wonderful muscle that pumps blood through the body. To illustrate the meaning of "heart" I quote from an exchange of letters during the Civil War.
A soldier from the Iowa regiment had lost a leg and arm. The boy wrote to his girl back home saying that in view of his changed condition he felt it only right to release her from their engagement. She wrote back, "As long as you have a body sufficient to hold your soul, I will cling to it." *
In this context "soul" and "heart" mean the same: that inner core, the deepest reality of our being, the part of you and me that a good person values most. If you ask, why are we here on earth? The answer is: to form a heart to love God and to love others. To prepare our hearts.
We can see this in the first reading. Isaiah says, "O Lord...we are the clay and you are the potter." Most of you have been in a potter's studio - or at least seen one on television - how he forms that moist clay into a beautiful form. So God does with us. He sometimes has to shake up our lives in order to form us.
If you are around small children, life becomes a string of unexpected and sometimes embarrassing events. I remember taking my three small nephews to an overnight at Saltwater State Park. I planned some shore fishing, a marshmallow roast, then turning in early so I could get them back to their parents early the next day. I won't describe the disaster that followed.** And I admit that ordinary moms and dads have better control that I. Still children have a way of subverting the plans even of those who seem in perfect control.
God does something similar. He's the God of surprises - some small, others huge. What matters is what we do with those unexpected things that constantly interrupt our lives. C.S. Lewis said, "What one calls the interruptions are precisely one's real life - the life God is sending one day by day."
Plans are important and routines help us get things done, but you know God often uses the unexpected to get our attention. He uses tribulations to form us like a sculpture, to prepare our hearts. Interruptions constitute our real life - the life God sends us each day.
God is trying to do something in our lives, but we ain't listening. Pope Benedict said, "We are no longer able to hear God - there are too many frequencies filling our ears." All this noise anesthetizes us, makes us drowsy.
Several decades ago the valley near Pittsburgh had steel mills that hammered day and night. The people near them got so used to the constant pounding that they slept through it. In fact, it lulled them to sleep. But one night an accident shut down a major mill. The pounding noise stopped. Everyone woke up.
That's what Jesus wants to do for us. It's easy to sleepwalk through life - to think that nothing really matters. The truth is every moment you and I are taking some form - for good or bad - and one day like clay placed in the oven, that form will become permanent: either turned toward God or away from him. Jesus wants to wake us up, to stop sleepwalking. "Be alert!" he says, "Be watchful!" And like those people in Pennsylvania - to wake up we need silence.
Archbishop Sartain puts the issue this way: "Who of us does not need a regular time of silence and peace, a time to let the events and trials of life fall into perspective - Jesus' perspective?"
The first step in preparing our hearts is silence so we can see God at work in the unexpected and awkward moments - those interruptions and trials.
Next week we will hear John the Baptist announce a "baptism of repentance for forgiveness of sin." A good examination of conscience and an Advent confession will go a long way in preparing the heart for Jesus. Today I ask you to expect the unexpected. God wants to do something new in your life and mine. As the prophet Isaiah says:
"O Lord, you are our father;
we are the clay and you are the potter:
we are all the work of your hands. Amen.
*Source: NPR American Chronicles: The Civil War
**Note to homilists: For sure you have your own story of children overturning you careful plans, but you are welcome to use my example ("I heard about a priest who...").
Here's what happened in my adventure. As we took our stick poles down to the shore, I warned them, "Watch out, boys. Don't get your shoes wet or your moms will be mad at me." Before I knew it they were in up their ankles, then their knees, finally whole bodies. I cut the fishing short and went back to the campsite with them following behind saying, "Uncle Father Phil! Uncle Father Phil!" Loud enough for all the campers to hear. I won't describe the campfire or the rest of the evening, but it did not go as I planned.
Preparing Our Hearts Week 1:
Preparing Our Hearts Week 2:
Preparing Our Hearts Week 3:
Preparing Our Hearts Week 4:
From Archives (First Sunday of Advent, Year B):
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Audio Files of Homilies (Simple Catholicism Blog)
Take the Plunge Bible Study (audio resources) *New Episodes*
Are these homilies a help to you? Please consider making a donation to St. Mary of the Valley Parish.
Other Priests' Homilies, Well Worth Listening:
Fr. Frank Schuster
Fr. Brad Hagelin
Fr. Jim Northrop
Fr. Michael White
Fr Pat Freitag (and deacons of St. Monica)
Bishop Robert Barron
Bulletin (St. Mary's Parish)
Parish Picture Album
Parish Picture Album
MBC - Mary Bloom Center, Puno, Peru