Bottom line: Reject both extreme materialism and extreme spiritualism. Hear John's call to a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
Last week we heard about a remarkable study - that while Americans' overall mental health declined during the pandemic, those who attended religious services actually saw an improvement in their mental health. Part of the reason for this is our hybrid nature. We have two aspects: physical and spiritual, body and soul that are intimately united. We are embodied spirits. Not only do we have muscles, blood and internal organs, we also have a spirit - an inner core that can turn away from God or turn toward him. "To, you, O Lord, I lift up my soul."
This biblical view of the human person avoids two extremes: On one side extreme materialism that says we are nothing more than matter in motion. For example, Sigmund Freud thought that one day we would have drugs that would take away our psychological problems. While medications can be very helpful, they have limits. We have a spiritual as well as material nature.
The Bible avoids extreme materialism. It also rejects extreme spiritualism. A group called the Gnostics thought they had such powerful spiritual insights that physical reality, the body, was inconsequential. We had a mild version of Gnosticism when I was growing up - Norman Vincent Peale with his Power of Positive Thinking. It influenced many people including Donald Trump. As a young man he was a big fan of the Power of Positive Thinking. The problem is that - no matter how strong your will - just thinking something does not make it so. The Bible rejects extreme spiritualism as well as extreme materialism.
We can see that today in John the Baptist. "John went throughout the whole region of the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins." John himself was an ascetic who downplayed the body. Yet he insisted on a physical ritual - an external washing that signified the internal cleansing from sins. He called people to repentance. It's a constant need because we humans keep turning away from God. Things starts crowding out prayer. Always something more interesting on the cell phone or TV. In our relationships resentments start taking over. Like Adam in the garden, we hide from God. John calls us to come out of hiding - to repent and turn back to God.
John's baptism begins the fulfilment of Isaiah's prophecy: all flesh shall see the salvation of God. John points to Jesus. Jesus saves our souls. He also saves our bodies, our human flesh. The Church not only cares for people's souls but also their bodies. That's why we have organizations like Catholic Community Services. We should not treat our bodies lightly. Our flesh has an eternal destiny.
To me that's a cause for rejoicing. Next week we celebrate Gaudete Sunday. I'll be wearing the rose vestments - the color of rejoicing. And this year we have a double reason for rejoicing because Gaudete Sunday falls on December 12, the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe! Next weekend is a good time to invite friends and family members back to church. For Advent Archbishop Etienne is lifting the dispensation from Sunday obligation. That means it's time to come back in person to Mass. Next Sunday is a great time to return. As we reflect on Discovering the Purpose of Life we will hear people ask John the Baptist, "What should we do?" That's for next Sunday.
For today I encourage you to reject both extreme materialism and extreme spiritualism. Hear John's call to a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
From Archives (Second Sunday of Advent - Year C):
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Audio Files of Homilies (Simple Catholicism Blog)
Take the Plunge Bible Study (audio resources) *New episodes for Summer - Kings and Prophets*
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 Kurt Nagel (and deacons of St. Monica)
Bishop Robert Barron
Bulletin (St. Mary of Valley Parish)
Parish Picture Album
MBC - Mary Bloom Center, Puno, Peru