2nd. Sunday of Advent (C)
(Baruch 5:1-9; Philippians 1:3-6, 8-11; Luke 3:1-6)
Today Mother Church recommends that we, her modern-day children, carefully reconsider John’s inspired proclamation because of its great significance for us who, by our Advent discipline and devotion, are now preparing to invite and welcome the same Lord, God, and Saviour, into our very own hearts and minds anew this Christmas.
Some 700 years before John, the prophet Isaiah had spoken of the messianic times to come in Judah by evoking:
The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make His paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, every mountain and hill brought low. The crooked places shall be made straight, and the rough ways smooth.
For our evangelist St. Luke, John was that voice crying in the wilderness, and John -- the greatest of all those born of woman, as Jesus said – taking up that prophecy of Isaiah, insisted that all those awaiting the imminent coming of the Messiah had to do something to further both the advent of the Messiah in their days and the fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophecy. And Mother Church, setting Luke’s Gospel message before us today, suggests likewise that we -- each and every one of us who believe in Jesus and anticipate His Advent blessing this year – do something in accordance with John’s inspired proclamation that we alone can and should do: first, acknowledge with sincere sorrow our too-many personal sins, and accompany it by fruits expressive of such repentance; but above all, however, by awaiting the Coming One with hearts full of gratitude eager to receive and embrace Him as the Only-begotten Son of God, sublimely gifted to us as One of us, the One Who can uniquely enable us, to live fuller and better lives as adopted children of God, His own brothers and sisters.
It is common among practicing Catholics these days to more or less forget about this obligation to open up the way for the Lord in their own hearts and minds, and consequently their lives as Catholics and Christians can so easily settle DOWN and become somewhat stagnant: too many basically faithful children of Mother Church limit themselves to holding firmly to the Faith they were originally taught, taking care they do not betray or fall short of it. In fact, however, since Jesus the Prince of Peace and Light of the World, is wanting to come anew into their refreshed lives this Christmas, they should desire above all to grow in that Faith and embrace anew the Love that enwraps it: Jesus’ Own love for us all, and the love of many martyrs, confessors, and fellow faithful Catholics who have treasured and handed the Faith down to us over centuries.
Again, many devout Catholics are regular in their observance of Sundays and holydays, and they intend to receive the sacraments well. However, though they do these things regularly, which is good, they also tend to do them routinely, which is not so good. For, having done these practices, which they often call duties -- duties which can be counted and ticked off as having been done for this week or for this month -- they then tend to wait for the Lord. They do not often think to undertake more personal heart-and-mind approaches, which are not things that can be called duties, but are endeavours to respond to God’s secret invitation, to answer God’s Personal call, to them personally.
In such ways, far too many Catholic disciples of Jesus hear Mother Church calling them in the name of God, from without themselves, but do not seem to hear God Himself whispering within themselves, from that secret and most holy sanctuary which is their own soul. Thus, they confine themselves to mediocrity: because they are, in fact, coming to a halt, settling for obligations and duties -- long known and recognized -- being faithfully observed each year, but going no further, no deeper. Now such a ‘coming to a halt’, at whatever level, is mediocrity for one called to let the Holy Spirit lead him or her throughout their life to become more like Jesus, ever more truly a child of God.
Other people might think highly and speak well of such a person, because he or she may have stopped at, and apparently remained at, a relatively high level, so to speak, when compared with others. But that’s just it, God doesn’t compare one with another: if you stop, at whatever level, you will begin to stagnate, and that is, for you -- in the eyes of God the Father Who is calling you and the Holy Spirit Who wants to lead you further along the way of Jesus -- settling for mediocrity, settling for something less than God wants of you, than what God wants FOR YOU.
Paul was very proud of his converts in Philippi and he acknowledged that not only were they indebted to himself, but that he too was indebted to them for the assistance they had given him in his need. He prayed for them as special friends:
And this I pray: that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment.
Now, that should be the programme for all of us: for our love can abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight. Don’t think that is not for you, that you can’t do that. Of course you can’t!! But God can and He does want to do it for you, to bring it about in you. You might not, indeed, be the reading, the studious, type, you might not be a deep thinker, but that does not exclude you from taking up God’s invitation: because it is a special invitation to you by Him Who knows you best of all; it is an invitation to lead you to the fullness of your vocation, to give Jesus all your love, in your uniquely personal way. If you are not a reader, not a deep thinker, O.K., don’t feel any need to force yourself into long periods of tedious and fruitless study or reading. Do what you do best. Perhaps you like to be with people rather than with books: try, then, to do your best to be with Jesus more. I don’t necessarily mean kneeling in Church, you might have too many duties and tasks for that: then, just try to be more with Him in your mind and heart: just as you are so often with your children or your grandchildren in your mind and heart. If your life seems burdened with other people’s troubles, then mention those troubles to Jesus, ask His help, ask Him to bless yourself and those in need. Some people find they can’t keep their attention on prayers which tend to become just empty words: among them, however, some might find great peace in just being in Jesus’ presence in the Church without saying anything: content and happy simply to know that He is there and they are in His presence. I can’t go through all the ways of deepening love for Jesus here, that is spiritual direction, much ignored today, but be quite sure of this, you are invited, called, urged by God the Father, Who wants to help your love for Jesus, His Son, to abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight: not knowledge of facts or insight into problems, but personal knowledge, awareness, appreciation, of the Person of Jesus, that is, understanding of, and empathy with, commitment to, Him. Knowledge and insight of this sort will enable you to grow just as St. Paul wanted his beloved Philippians to grow:
That you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ.
Some people, even some good Catholics and Christians, try to set good works for others at variance with, or as a substitute for, deep personal holiness, oneness with Jesus. They tend to think that they ought to be doing something for Jesus, some good work, some visible, tangible, work that helps to free at least one corner of the world from its overwhelming burden of suffering and sin: work of that nature, they feel, is much better than just ‘becoming holy’.
Of course, when they put it in that way to themselves, they are loading the dice for their own purposes, because, comparing supposedly generous works for others with the implied selfishness of oneself trying to become holy before God is totally wrong. True holiness is the most unselfish state possible, it is entirely God centred: true holiness is love of God that leads to total forgetfulness of self, and such self-sacrifice in the likeness of Jesus, is only authentic and true when it is a spontaneously free gift, brought about indeed by the Holy Spirit, but allowed, accepted, embraced, and whole-heartedly followed, by the recipient. Such holiness is most un-common and no easy option. True holiness, it was, that sustained the early martyrs suffering persecution under the Roman Empire; and still today continues to manifest itself in the lives of those enduring and dying for Jesus under modern fanatical or totalitarian regimes, or those saddened and oppressed by their own compatriots’ rejection of Jesus’ demanding love for easier and more pleasing worldly and/or fleshly options:
The time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine but, following their own desires and insatiable curiosity, will accumulate teachers and will stop listening to the truth. (2 Timothy 4:3–4)
God can always find many people to do things for Him; for many there are, who will do good things for motives that are not so good, such as self-approval or public appreciation; frequently, the very relief of working at something that occupies their mind and distracts their heart is enough for them. Indeed, there are those to be found, as St. Paul himself experienced (Philippians 1:15–18), who will even do good things for evil reasons:
Of course, some preach Christ from envy and rivalry, thinking that they will cause me trouble in my imprisonment. What difference does it make, as long as in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is being proclaimed? In that I rejoice. Indeed, I shall continue to rejoice.
Therefore, let us turn back to our second reading where St. Paul spoke to the Philippians of:
Their fellowship (with him) in the gospel from the first day until now.
In that spirit of loving appreciation and gratitude he prayed most especially that:
(Their) love (might) abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment.
Dear People of God, our fellowship with St. Paul in proclaiming Christ in today’s hostile world requires that work of us which he so persuasively urged his friends at Philippi to undertake in all confidence. It is, precisely, our essential part in the missionary work of Mother Church today; and ultimately, only such a partnership of the whole faithful Christian people in the Church’s proclamation of the Gospel will lead to the fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophecy:
All flesh shall see the salvation of God.