One Taken, One Left

(Homily for First Sunday of Advent - Year A)

Message: We see people who appear the same, but inside are very different. One man clings to idols, the other breaks with them. He turns to the living God. Faith saves because it makes possible a relationship with God and with each other.

Last Sunday we saw two men: two robbers crucified on either side of Jesus. One man reviles Jesus. The other says, "Jesus, remember me." To that second man Jesus says, "Today you will be with me in paradise."*

One man had made an idol out of his superiority over others - his ability to take what he wanted and scoff at others. He even scoffed at Jesus. The second broke with that idolatry and placed his trust in Jesus.

In today's Gospel we see pairs: two men in the field, two women grinding wheat - outwardly the same, but inwardly very different. One is taken, the other left. What is the difference?

It comes down to faith. You have heard the phrase, "saved by faith." Pope Francis says that faith is the "opposite of idolatry." Faith "breaks with idols and turns to the living God in a personal encounter."

An idol is anything we put in place of God. It can be something good in itself: food, money, alcohol, sex, work, children, country or some other person. Let me give you an example. Once a brilliant young man began to believe the truth about God and Jesus. He believed in his head, but he did not want to give up certain activities. One day, alone in a garden, he heard a voice say, "take up and read." He picked up a Bible and his eyes fell on the same verse we heard in today's second reading:

"Not in orgies and drunkenness
not in promiscuity and lust
not in rivalry and jealousy,
but put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the desires of the flesh."

When he read that verse, he made a definitive break with idols and turned to the living God. He went on to become our greatest teacher - after St. Paul. You probably know who I am talking about: St. Augustine, the bishop of Hippo in North Africa.

Before his conversion Augustine would have been one of the people left. He recognized that faith saved him: by pure grace God enabled him to have that personal encounter.

So we are saved by faith - a relationship to God in Jesus, a relationship that involves a break with idols. It happened dramatically with Augustine, but he saw that it had to be ongoing. New idols keep cropping up - things that want to take the place of God. Pope Francis wrote, "Idols exist as a pretext for setting ourselves at the center of reality and worshiping the work our hands."

Pope Francis uses this definition of idolatry: "When a face addresses a face that is not a face." The Bible says that idols "have mouth, but they speak not." Idolatry addresses something that is not real. We can make an idol out of some other person. We don't want the person; we only want to satisfy our needs. Faith is different. Faith breaks with idols and turns to the living person.

Faith provides the foundation for community - with God and with others. Pope Francis points out something that should be obvious if we think about it. "If we remove faith in God from our cities, mutual trust would be weakened and we would remain united only by fear." Doesn't that describe where we are heading? The only thing that reverse the trend is faith. Faith enables us to have a relationship not only with God, but with each other.

In today's Old Testament reading, Isaiah invites us to "climb the mountain of the Lord," to learn his teaching. If we do that, he say, "they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks." In New York City they have a statue of a muscular young man with a long broad sword that touches the ground and bends back. In his right hand he has a hammer to beat the tip into a plow. Instead of using the sword to kill, he will use it to produce crops. "They shall beat their swords into plowshares." We need swords when we live in mutual fear, but faith enables us to work together, to lift up each other.

So today - First Sunday of Advent - we see people who appear the same, but inside are very different. One man clings to idols, the other breaks with them. He turns to the living God. Faith saves because it makes possible a relationship with God and with each other. In the next two Sunday we will explore:

• The difference between faith and gullibility
• How our faith relates to the faith of other believers
• The relation faith and science
• How faith, like science, has a methodology
• Why faith is a valid way to know the truth

Don't miss these next two Sunday. For today we have this beautiful invitation:

"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."


*When we made our pilgrimage to Molokai, we had the opportunity to spend an afternoon at the World War II Memorial at Pearl Harbor. Besides the acts if infamy, that day had many acts of heroism and self-sacrifice. One was a 33-year-old chaplain named Father Aloysius Schmitt. On December 7, 1941, Fr. Schmitt was serving on board the battleship, USS Oklahoma when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. A Japanese hit caused the ship to capsize. A number of sailors, including Fr. Schmitt, were trapped in a compartment with only a small porthole as the means of escape. Fr. Schmitt helped a number of men through this porthole. When it came his time to leave, he declined and helped more men to escape. In total, he helped 12 men to escape. Fr. Schmitt died on board the Oklahoma. He was the first chaplain of any faith to have died in World War II.

I don't know if I would have the heroism of Fr. Schmitt, but, for my money, I would hope I could be like another man who died that day: Private First Class Joseph Nelles. "The Catholic chaplain's assistant was returning from early-morning mass when the planes struck. His first thoughts were to safeguard the Blessed Sacrament in the chapel. He ran back and must have just reached the altar when the chapel took a direct hit and vanished in the blast." (from Day of Infamy by Walter Lord.)

Versión Castellana

Audio Version of this Homily

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

2010: Please Hold the Applause
2007: Not in Promiscuity and Lust
2004: The Night is Advanced
2001: The Noise Stopped
1998: Late, But Not Too Late

Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

Sunday Homilies

Audio Files of Homilies

Podcasts of homilies (website of my niece, Sara)

Evidence for God's Existence from Modern Physics (MP3 Audio File)

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Bulletin (St. Mary's Parish)

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(Pilgrimage to Molokai)

MBC - Mary Bloom Center, Puno, Peru

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