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Advent introspection: What are we looking for?

Archbishop Wenski's homily at St. Brendan Parish on its 65th anniversary

Archbishop Thomas Wenski preached this homily while celebrating Mass at St. Brendan Church in Westchester, Dec. 1, 2019. The parish was marking the 65th anniversary of its foundation.

This first Sunday of Advent reminds us that Jesus is coming again. Now whether that’s “good news” to you or not, depends on whether his first coming was “good news” to you.

Of course, today at St. Brendan’s you are celebrating the 65th anniversary of the founding of this parish, and that is, I think, good news! 65 years ago, Westchester looked a lot different than it does today; and it probably sounded a lot different than it does today. St. Brendan was an Irish priest-monk. He is considered one of the “twelve apostles of Ireland” – he was also a sailor. Un discípulo misionero por ser un discípulo marinero. Así, lo vemos en un barco en ese vitral en la portada de la iglesia. Mucha gente al pasar por la calle y al ver el viral pensaban que el barco fuera una balsa y el santo fuera San Mariel.

But in those 65 years, this parish has taught successive generations of parishioners “to walk in the light of faith” as did your patron, St. Brendan, in the early evangelization of Ireland.

65 years! A lot of memories; a lot of history. But, because history is made by human beings, by flawed creatures wounded by sin, history has its shadows as well as its lights. But, grace triumphs over sin, light over darkness. In the season of Advent, we celebrate the past, future and present coming of Him whom the darkness could not overcome. And so, who could dare say that there is nothing to celebrate.

Because of Jesus and his Advent (that is, his coming among us), we can look back to the past with gratitude, celebrate the present with enthusiasm and look forward to the future with confidence.

More than fifty years ago, the bishops at the Second Vatican Council said it like this: “(T)he Church, ‘like a stranger in a foreign land, presses forward amid the persecutions of the world and the consolations of God, announcing the cross and death of the Lord until He comes.’ By the power of the risen Lord she is given strength that she might, in patience and in love, overcome her sorrows and her challenges, both within herself and from without, and that she might reveal to the world, faithfully though darkly, the mystery of her Lord until, in the end, it will be manifested in full light.” (Lumen Gentium)

And we all do have sorrows and challenges — everybody does, for such is the nature of our exile in this valley of tears. The cross is never absent from our lives. Today, for example, is World AIDS Day – and, I believe, there is not one of us who hasn’t someone infected – or affected – by this pandemic.

And even though we celebrated Thanksgiving Day here in Miami — esta fiesta de ese nuevo santo norteamerico, “Sangiving” — we are conscious of those near and dear to us in Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela and other countries who are suffering from the lack of bread — and the lack of freedom. And for many, the holiday season is bittersweet — because of a loss they have experienced, or an illness — their own or that of a loved one — they must face. And as we pray for the recovery of Father Oscar Perez, we are reminded again that the cross is never absent from our lives.

Yet, “like a stranger in a foreign land,” the Church (and remember, Church means all of you), the Church, presses forward “amid the persecutions of the world and the consolations of God.”

And so, in celebrating the 65 years of this parish, we celebrate those “consolations of God” that have never been lacking — even amid the persecutions of the world as we struggle to make lives for ourselves and our families in this great land. And one of those consolations is the vitality and growth of this parish community, its school and its many ministries over these past 65 years.

Advent, however, calls us to some introspection. It poses to us the question, “What are we looking for?” “Where do we put our priorities?” “What is the good news we want to hear?” And is it good news for us? Advent reminds us: “The Lord is coming” and thus calls us to renew our hope, faith and courage; Advent calls us to a continued struggle for justice; it calls us to find in the Word who becomes our own flesh healing and wholeness.

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus speaks about the end of the world. He says, “So too, you also must be prepared,for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come. ” As I said at the beginning of this homily: Jesus is coming again. Now whether that’s “good news” to you or not, depends on whether his first coming was “good news” to you.

Advent is not about a judgmental God trying to scare us into heaven; rather it is about a merciful God inviting us to see what he is offering us.

We won’t have any need to fear the Lord when he comes again in glory, if we didn’t hesitate to accept him when he came the first time, in humility, as a little child in the poverty of Bethlehem.

As this parish community celebrates this milestone — 65 years of announcing the good news of Jesus Christ here in Westchester — may you, with the strength and power of the risen Christ, continue to announce with joy and in word and in deed “the cross and death of the Lord until he comes.”

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