Bottom line: The question stands: "What should we do?" First, place your life before the Lord.
This Advent and Christmas I am giving a homily series on Discovering Life's Purpose. So far we've seen that that discovery begins with the recognition God created us as hybrid creature: we are not simply matter in motion, but we have an inner core that can turn to God or away from him. The Bible views us as embodied spirits. As such we need to avoid the pitfalls of both extreme materialism and extreme spiritualism. Extreme materialism says: "Well, I'm just a product of blind evolution. I can't control my impulses." Extreme spiritualism says, "My spirit is so strong, my will is so powerful, it doesn't matter what I do with my body." Sometimes this is called "the power of positive thinking." Positive thinking has a certain value, but the problem is that just thinking something does not make it so."
We are embodied spirits who have to make a choice - to come to God or turn away from him. We are like the people in today's Gospel who ask John the Baptist, "What should we do?" Notice that John does not give exotic advice. He mentions ordinary things: Share what you have, tell the truth, practice integrity. Be grateful for what you've got - stop comparing yourself to others. These are very ordinary words of advice. You could get similar advice from the Buddha, Socrates, Lao-Tse or other great teachers. John is not inventing new precepts. He speaks from the universal moral law - a law "written in the human heart." We know the moral law because have something in us called a "conscience."
And what is "conscience"? Many people think conscience means personal opinion. They say "I know the Church teaches abortion is wrong, but I follow my own conscience." Well, conscience is a lot more than feelings and opinions. Here's how the Catechism describes conscience: "Deep within his conscience man discovers a law which he has not laid upon himself but which he must obey. Its voice, ever calling him to love and to do what is good and to avoid evil, sounds in his heart at the right moment...For man has in his heart a law inscribed by God...His conscience is man's most secret core and his sanctuary. There he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths." (1776)
The Catechism quotes St John Henry Newman, "Conscience is the aboriginal Vicar of Christ." If you have a few minutes take a look at what he Catechism says about formation of conscience and choosing in accord with conscience. It's a pretty interesting. Start with paragraph 1776.
Because of the voice of conscience, deep down we know God's basic precepts. Conscience tells us to pursue excellence. That, by the way, is what our founders meant when they talked about "pursuit of happiness". It doesn't mean pursuit of pleasure, but pursuit of excellence for the sake of others. It means asking God, what is your will for me today?"
A person excellence according to his possibilities. Some people have enormous potential. Others are very limited. I think about Vernon, a man I brought First Friday Communion during my early years as priest. Vernon had an accident that left him paralyzed from the neck down. I remember him telling me one of the worst parts was having an itch on his cheek or nose and not being able to scratch it. Sometimes he felt it would be better if he just died. But Vernon had a gift for for listening to others, asking them questions and giving them encouragement. He was something like St. Mary of the Valley's Dale Doornek. He helped young people see that no matter how bad things seem. Like Dale, Vernon radiated joy.
When we do God's will, when we discover our purpose, we experience joy. St Paul writes, "Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice!" Now, sometimes it's easy to rejoice. For example, when we receive an unexpected blessing. Early this month I received an envelope. It contained a bequest for $80,000! (you can applaud) As a bequest we do not use it for operating expenses, but for capital needs. You will see on the side a list of projects pending. Thanks to Chuck and Marilyn Pendleton's stewardship of planned giving, we will be able to address one or two of them. I hope their generosity will inspire others to remember St. Mary of the Valley in your will. You might consider giving 10% of your estate to the parish or the archdiocese for a specific need. It will be a sign to your children that what we have ultimately belongs to God.
So the question stands: "What should we do?" Get in touch not so much with your feelings and opinions, but with that voice of conscience within you. There you will discover God's will. More next Sunday when we hear how Jesus himself said, to the Father,, "behold, I come to do your will." In God's will we have peace, we have joy. For that reason even in difficult circumstances, Paul could say, "Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice!"
From Archives (Third Sunday of Advent - Year C):
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
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