The Leopard, the Lion and the Wolf

(Homily for Second Sunday of Advent, Year A)

In the opening Canto of the Divine Comedy, Dante encounters three ferocious animals: the leopard, the lion and the wolf. They symbolize the major categories of sin: incontinence, violence and fraud. Or as they are more commonly called – lust, pride and avarice. In her commentary, Dorothy L. Sayers explains that these categories of sin were associated with the three stages of life – lust with youth, pride (self-conceit) with the middle years and avarice with old age. Of course, they can attack a person at any time of his life.

When John the Baptist preached, the people responded by “acknowledging their sins.” I will publicly acknowledge mine – not in a specific way (best to save that for confession) but in a general way. I have not always fought off the attack of the leopard, the lion and the wolf. Within the last week, possibly within the last day, I have fallen into some degrees of lust, self-conceit and greed. Perhaps I have not done so in an egregious manner, but that it is not the point. All of us should reflect on these words of Blessed John Newman:

“The Catholic Church holds it better for the sun and moon to drop from heaven, for the earth to fail, and for all the many millions on it to die of starvation in extremest agony, as far as temporal affliction goes, than that one soul . . . should commit one single venial sin, should tell one willful untruth, or should steal one poor farthing without excuse.”

On a natural level it does not make sense to me that the lie I told is a worse disaster than the AIDS epidemic. However, from a spiritual, eternal point of view there is no way around it. The worst evil, the only ultimate evil is sin - the knowing and deliberate violation of God's law.

Sin knows how to sell itself. It arrives beautifully packaged and seems irresistible. Everywhere we look, lust, violence, and greed dominate our world. To become a cynic requires no effort. John the Baptist did not fall into that trap. For sure he denounced sin, but more importantly he proclaimed a solid hope. The dominion of sin, he says, is coming to an end. The kingdom of God is at hand. What is that kingdom? Today’s Old Testament reading describes it poetically:

Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the kid;
the calf and the young lion shall browse together. (Is. 11:6)

Isaiah's vision of a peaceful kingdom has inspired people for almost three millennia. The rule of love will replace the rule of violence. Do not mistake appearance for reality. In moving from illusion to truth, Dante obviously drew inspiration from the above Scripture verse.* The fearsome beasts will find a place next to the more gentle animals. Our own malignant tendencies will be transformed – but only if we place them under God’s discipline. Like St. John, we await “the one who is coming.”


*And from Jeremiah 5:6, which describes the beasts when raging out of control: “Therefore a lion from the forest shall slay them, and a wolf from the desert shall destroy them. A leopard is watching against their cities, every one who goes out of them shall be torn in pieces because their transgressions are many, their apostasies are great.

Spanish Version

And a little humor (those of us with great-nephews & nieces know just how he feels):

From Archives (Second Sunday of Advent, Year A):

2010: Silence, Sin, Spirit
2007: That We Might Have Hope
2004: The Leopard, the Lion and the Wolf
2001: Change Your Life!
1998: Holy Spirit and Fire

Other Homilies

Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

Bulletin (Guadete & Guadalupe, Peaceful Kingdom, Symposium on Life Issues)


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Rocco Buttiglione...caused an outrage when he told reporters that he agreed with his church's basic teachings on homosexuality, the sanctity of marriage, and abortion.

Richard John Neuhaus on the Catholic bishops' decision to join Christian Churches Together

Bulletin (St. Mary's Parish)

Parish Picture Album

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