Bottom line: We have a misery and a magnificence which makes us thirst for God, that is, to pray. Prayer should lead us to reach out bowed down.
At the conclusion of the Prayers of the Faithful I will bless the Advent Wreath and light the first candle representing the First Sunday of Advent. This Advent we focus on prayer as thirst: God's thirst for us and our thirst for God. This thirst corresponds to our human condition. A seventeenth century scientist named Blaise Pascal summed up our predicament.* "Christianity is strange," he said. "It bids man recognize that he is vile, even abominable, and bids him desire to be like God."
You can see human wretchedness in the first reading. Isaiah says we have become like unclean people, all our good deeds are polluted rages, our guilt carries us away like the wind. This vileness applies not only to people caught in public scandals, but also to each of us. I mean, how is it we so readily recognize the abominations of others? Not that we all have the same sins, but you know any time I point my finger at someone, I have three pointing back at me. Human history shows us to be a pretty wretched race.
But along with wretchedness the readings also describe our greatness. Paul speaks about the grace given by Christ Jesus. He has enriched us with discourse, knowledge, spiritual gifts. In Jesus we actually become irreproachable - not because of our good deeds, but because of our union with him.
So we find ourselves stretched between extremes: wretchedness and glory, misery and magnificence. What should we do? Two things: First, recognize that the very fact we know our wretchedness shows our greatness. A lion shows no remorse about attacking the defenseless - but we do (at least sometimes). You would not feel bad about what you did if you lacked a moral sense, God's soft voice speaking inside you. So that's the first thing - the more down you feel the higher God is calling you.
The second thing is what Jesus tells us in today's Gospel: Be watchful! Be alert! As we will hear in a couple of weeks, "pray without ceasing." Jesus alone can resolve our inner contradiction. As Pascal observes, "Jesus Christ is a God whom we approach without pride, and before whom we humble ourselves without despair."
God thirsts for souls. In Jesus God has humbled himself to lift us up. As we learned in recent weeks, God wants a partnership with us. He gives us gifts and wants us to make a return - to use those gifts to lift up Jesus and to lift up others. During Advent we see how God wants us to help those who carry heavy burdens. We have the example of John the Baptist and also the Virgin Mary. As Our Lady of Guadalupe she came to a humble dispirited man. Above all we have the example of Jesus: born in a stable, adored by shepherds. They were lower class working people but it's significant that they had an occupation that required being watchful, being alert.
John, Mary, Jesus himself illustrate God reaching out to the lowly. That includes you and me. We have a misery and a greatness which make us thirst for God, that is, to pray. Prayer should lead us to reach out to those bowed down. Next weekend we will have a testimony about how Catholic Charities serves those in difficult situations. Today we have a witness about Stewardship and the work of our St. Vincent de Paul Society. Please give your full attention to ___________________________.
*He invented the first computer, but don't hold that against him. :)
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
MBC - Mary Bloom Center, Puno, Peru