Sunday, December 16, 2012

Homily 3rd Sun Advent Year C 2012–We Shall Be Upheld

Heavy on my heart this morning, despite the joy signified by Rose colored vestments, is the sadness I felt when I heard the news this past weekend of the school shooting in Newtown, CT. I wondered how I could wear Rose vestments at Mass this weekend. In the midst of the purple of Advent, a sign of the intense prayer and work we take on in order to prepare our hearts to receive our Lord, Rose is meant to be a sign of the joy that we feel from knowing that our Lord is close at hand. Then, characteristic of a mind that darts too and fro, I remembered my two favorite lines from Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” and then I remembered one of my favorite Scripture passages which is popular in the pro-life movement.

First, my favorite lines from “A Christmas Carol”. You’ve all seen the movie right? I hope sometime you’ll have a chance to read the book. The edition from Penguin Classics has some very helpful footnotes. With this book Dickens single-handedly popularized many of the Christmas traditions we take for granted today: Christmas carols, lights, dinners, games, and parties all find their roots in his beautifully written story, A Christmas Carol. Do you remember the scene when the ghost of Christmas Past first takes Scrooge on his adventure to convert his heart toward the true meaning of Christmas? The Spirit clasped Scrooge’s arm and was about to whisk him away through the window to a scene from his childhood. Scrooge, afraid that he can’t fly like the Spirit said, “I am a mortal, and liable to fall.” “Bear but a touch of my hand there,” said the Spirit, laying it upon his heart, “and you shall be upheld in more than this!”

My second favorite line from the story is during the visit of the ghost of Christmas Present. The Ghost takes Scrooge to a vision of Bob Cratchit’s house. There he sees Mrs. Cratchit and the children busily preparing the Christmas dinner. Finally, Bob Cratchit comes home from Church with Tiny Tim upon his shoulder. “Alas for Tiny Tim,” Dickens writes, “he bore a little crutch, and had his limbs supported by an iron frame.” Then their daughter Martha, hiding behind the closet, jumps out, surprises Bob and runs into his arms. Mrs. Cratchit then asks about their time at Church, “And how did little Tim behave?” “As good as gold,” said Bob, “and better. Somehow he gets thoughtful sitting by himself so much, and thinks the strangest things you ever heard. He told me, coming home, that he hoped the people saw him in the church, because he was a cripple, and it might be pleasant to them to remember upon Christmas Day, who made lame beggars walk and blind men see.”

In coping with this tragedy today, I believe that if we let the Holy Spirit place His hand upon our hearts, we too could be upheld even in the most frightful situations. The sustaining hand of the Holy Spirit can even help us to look upon the suffering of children and call to mind the One who wraps his arms around them, loves them, touches and blesses them, heals them, and saves them.

In my experience counseling women who have lost children to abortion, one of the Scripture passages that resonates with them the most is that of Rachel from the Old Testament. The prophet Jeremiah describes the grief of Rachel, whose sons Joseph and Benjamin and their tribes have been lost and scattered among enemy lands. “A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted, because they are not” (Jer 31:15).

Matthew’s Gospel quotes Jeremiah when he describes the slaughter of the Holy Innocents, King Herod’s attempt to kill the newborn sons of Bethlehem in order to eliminate the newborn King of the Jews. But Matthew doesn’t include the consolation that Jeremiah later describes: “Thus says the Lord: ‘Keep your voice from weeping, and your eyes from tears; for your work shall be rewarded, says the Lord, and they shall come back from the land of the enemy’” (Jer 31:16). Why doesn’t Matthew quote this too?

Our Holy Father, in his new book on Jesus’ childhood, explains that in Matthew’s Gospel the prophetic text – the mother’s lament without the consoling response – “is like a cry to God himself, a plea for consolation that does not come and is still awaited, a plea to which only God can respond.” Our Holy Father continues to explain that “the only true consolation that is more than mere words would be the resurrection. Only in the resurrection could the wrong be overcome, and that bitter lament, ‘they are not’ be silenced. In our own day, the mother’s cry to God continues unabated, yet at the same time the resurrection of Jesus strengthens our hope of true consolation” (Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, p. 112-113). It is that hope that enables us to wear Rose.

In today’s Gospel when St. John the Baptist preaches repentance in order to prepare in men’s hearts a way for the Lord, he is advocating a change of mind, a turning not only away from sin, but toward God. Three times he is asked today, “What should we do?” In the face of mind-bending violence in Connecticut, teachers, parents, and children all over the country are asking, “What should we do?” This is a time for life-changing conversion. St. John has already told his audience the answer: “Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance” (Lk 3:8). And he advises them to prove their faith through works of charity, honesty, and justice (Scott Hahn, “Homily Helps,” Dec 16).

What should we do? I think we should turn away from making the distinction between Church and State into a separation, and turn toward proclaiming God in the public square with renewed courage and zeal. We should turn away from radical self-reliance and turn toward storming heaven with our prayers both in times of joy and fear. We should turn away from isolation and neglect and toward renewed communion and brotherhood. We should turn away from trying to answer “Why?” and turn toward the Father who hears our pleas for consolation and responds; toward the Son who desires to love and save our children through his Resurrection; toward the Holy Spirit who places his hand on our hearts to uplift us. Lastly, today we turn toward our Blessed Mother, who knows what it’s like to lose a Son to unspeakable violence. Pray for us sinners, Dear Mother, nowand at the hour of our death.

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