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Advent reminds us: God still enters into our lives

Archbishop Wenski's homily at Mass with archdiocesan men, women religious

Archbishop Thomas Wenski preached this homily Dec. 8, 2019, while celebrating a Mass with the men and women religious serving in the archdiocese. The religious were gathered at St. John Vianney College Seminary in Miami for their Advent day of recollection.

On this the Second Sunday of Advent, our parishes throughout the Archdiocese of Miami are hosting a “welcome weekend,” a kind of “open house.” And wasn’t it nice that the faculty and the seminarians of St. John Vianney have opened their home to us today. So, again “Welcome.”

I’ve already given a talk at the beginning of this time of recollection and prayer, so I guess by preaching the homily, I’m getting a second bite at the apple. I hope that you bear with me.

On this, the second Sunday of the Advent Season, the voice of John the Baptist cries out from the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord.

While today is December 8th, the feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary was preempted by Sunday, which is always a feast of the Lord and thus takes precedence over the feasts of the saints – even when it is one of Mary’s feasts. The Immaculate Conception will be celebrated tomorrow of course. And the Immaculate Conception of Mary fits in very well with the Advent Season. By preserving Mary from all stain of sin, the Lord himself was doing his part in preparing the Way of the Lord. Mary – full of grace – would say “Yes” to the Lord, accepting her role in the history of our salvation. Her “yes” opened the doors of our world to hope, to the one hope that will never disappoint, Jesus Christ.

Advent is a season charged with expectations, it is a season filled with hope. This message of hope is certainly sorely needed today. We live in a world of fragile peace and of broken promises. Advent reminds us of this fact as well. The world is broken – and it needs fixing. And if the world is broken it is because we have forgotten about God. To live without God, to live without reference to his truth, to pretend that we can organize our world, that we can live our lives without God, without acknowledging that he has made us more than just to die one day, leaves us pretty hopeless.

And so much of the problems, so many of the social ills of our time, are merely symptoms of this loss of hope. Without hope, the toils of our daily life, the trials and tribulations that we all face in one way or another make life joyless and just drudgery. Life becomes like an arid desert.

And from that desert – from the depths of the loneliness that is our plight when God seems silent and far away – John the Baptist announces that the Lord is in fact very near to each one of us. But we must prepare the way – making straight those paths along which we travel, removing those obstacles, those pot holes in the road of life, that keep us exiled from God.

Thus, Advent is a call to repentance, to conversion – for if we do not recognize our need for God, if we don’t acknowledge that he can save and that we cannot save ourselves, then what meaning would Christmas have for us? And this call to repentance and conversion is addressed not only to the laity – but also to us.

This penitential aspect of Advent, of course, is easy for us to miss, especially as the secular aspects of the Christmas season have us busy with Christmas parties and shopping. Many do spend a lot of time buying gifts – and wrapping them up for Christmas Day. When I was in grade school, during Advent, a prominent feature of our classroom during Advent was the Jesse Tree – it was a good way for us kids to familiarize ourselves Old Testament prophecies about the promised Messiah. Today’s first reading speaks of the stump of Jesse and how “from his root a bud shall blossom.”

Let’s be careful lest we get so absorbed in the gifts we forget about the gift that is, after all, the reason for the season: the bud that blossoms from Jesse’s stump – the Christ Child – God become our own flesh – through whom, as we sing in the Christmas carol, “God and sinner is reconciled.”

As one wise man said, anybody wrapped up in himself or herself makes himself a very small gift. So, while we might spend some time wrapping gifts, Advent reminds us that we must first unwrap ourselves – we must come out of our living only for ourselves, we must come out of our self-absorption, our self-centeredness, our self-pity so as to be able to welcome the Lord who comes into our lives. And so as not to intimidate us, or frighten us, or shame us, he will come as a little child, a little bambino, with arms outstretch, seeking our embrace, our love.

Advent reminds us that God still enters into our lives – and offers each one of us new hope.

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