If we look in the Bible at how different people were called by God we notice one similarity those called by God felt unworthy. In our gospel today Peter responds to the call of Jesus with these words: Depart from me Lord, for I am a sinful man. In the first reading Isaiah said: Woe is me, I am doomed! For I am a man of unclean lips. In the second reading Paul said: I am the least of the apostles, not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the Church of God.
A man once told me about how in college he was failing his classes and running with the wrong crowd. Then he met his future wife. Because of her love, his whole life changed. He cleaned up his life, they were married and now have three beautiful children. Love can and does change everything.
Today we conclude the Christmas season as we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord. Tomorrow we begin Ordinary Time, which continues until Ash Wednesday, March 6th. As we celebrate the baptism of Jesus, let us recall the importance of water in the sacrament of baptism. In this initiation sacrament water symbolizes cleansing, through which our sins, including the stain of original sin, is removed. Water also symbolizes new life. Just as the earth needs the rain for new life and growth, so do we in our spiritual life. This begins with the sacrament of baptism and is remembered each time we enter church and bless ourselves with the holy water. That blessing is to recall our baptism and to acknowledge our need to water our faith life if we are to grow.
Advent has always been an especially sacred time for me. It is a time to start a new year focused on God. The focus centers on the God-man event, the incarnation. To me this is the most extraordinary event and most wonderful of gifts. Our God chose to become part of our lives, part of our world and part of our history. As I reflect on this event, I realize that it’s not simply a thing of the past – but also, and so importantly, a thing of the present. I witness God becoming incarnate today in many ways: in the outstretched hands of service, in the repentant hearts of those who seek forgiveness, in the grateful worshippers gathered in prayer and through the financial generosity of those who support our parish. God becomes part of our history (our story), as we allow Him to be born anew in the world through our good works and prayers.
In the classic Disney movie Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, the dwarves go off to work with picks and shovels over their shoulders singing joyfully: “Hi Ho, Hi Ho, it’s off to work we go.” In our Advent song “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” we join that happy work song of the seven dwarves. Our Advent foreman, John the Baptist, shouts, “Shoulder your pick and shovel and make straight your crooked ways; fill in your valleys and level your mountains – prepare the way of the Lord.”
Today is “Gaudete Sunday,” or “Rejoice Sunday”, the third Sunday of Advent. In the first reading the prophet Zephaniah reminds us to “shout for joy,” while in the second reading St. Paul reminds us to “rejoice in the Lord always.” In the gospel a question is asked of John the Baptist – What are we to do? The question is about how to live the faith. One important ingredient is joy. There is something very attractive about joyful people. Mother Teresa and her sisters, while living in the simplest fashion exuded joy and this in itself attracted many to the faith. Let us be joyful people. May our joy attract those who have fallen away from the Church to consider coming back.
Today, as we begin the season of Advent, we begin a new Church year. The word Advent comes from the Latin word “adventus” which means “coming.”
Advent is a time of joyful expectation as we prepare our hearts for the coming of Jesus. His coming is past, present and future. The first couple weeks of Advent focus on the end of the world and the future coming of Jesus. The last weeks focus on the first coming, the past event that occurred in Bethlehem. Throughout the entire season we are invited to recognize the present coming of Jesus — and we are challenged to make His coming real by shining His light.
Christ the King marks the end and the beginning. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last. This celebration marks the end of the Church year and next week the beginning of a new year (Advent). This celebration reminds us that at the end of the world Christ the King will return to begin something new and eternal. The fact that Christ will return is celebrated today.
At the beginning of today’s gospel Jesus says to his disciples: “In those days after that tribulation the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from the skies, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.” At the end of the gospel Jesus says: “But of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven nor the Son, but only the Father.”
Part of our Christian obligation is to support the work of the Church. In times past, it wasn’t necessary to remind the faithful of this obligation, they knew it and did their part. In today’s world, things are different. The Church competes with our consumer society for the means to keep their doors open in order to continue the wonderful ministry and outreach that has been the Church’s hallmark. Currently, here at St. Rita’s, we have the added responsibility of paying off our debt to the Archdiocese from the first phase of our building campaign.