Dec 3, 2016

Second Sunday of Advent


At this time of the year, with preparations underway for the Christmas festivities, the holiday lights that adorn some of our homes of course only make sense when the sun goes down and it's dark outside. The usual string of lights often serve to draw our attention away from the scrapes and scratches on the door, the streaks on the glass of the window and the dead leaves in the gutters that, thank God, nobody sees, unless they are up a ladder! As beautiful and charming as the holiday lights are and a welcome delight to see, communicating to the outside world a hint of warmth and festive cheer, they do not always reflect that same ideal spirit working behind the scenes, inside the house, in the kitchen, living room or dining room for example. At times, the lights are on, but nobody’s home!

Maybe this is why the images painted by the Prophet Isaiah in the first reading are so beautiful to imagine - the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, the calf and the young lion grazing together guided by a little child - but we know instinctively that’s not going to happen anytime soon. And even on this side of the aisle the adornment of this sacred space, the particular colors we choose, the placement of the candles and lingering waft of incense, are all very visible to our eye and simulate our senses to look upward and beyond. But sometimes they too can betray the hidden tension, the struggles and challenges we often live with in the secret of our heart and souls.   

Light and darkness are not always opposed to each other. Sometimes, they actually compliment each other, work with each other, making visible subtle details, texture, adding shape and dimension of what might otherwise be presumed as flat and uninteresting. The interplay between light and darkness, even in our own lives, defines our heart and soul - our character.

To help tease this out, the prophet John the Baptist takes center stage in the Gospel this Sunday. To the untrained eye one might think of him as an uncompromising short of guy.  Far from it!  It is unfortunately sometimes easy, if not convenient, to build up an image a holy man in “black and white” terms, for then I have already made up my mind. I have a readymade excuse just to listen to his words without reflecting upon the deeper meaning of what he is saying to me. With God’s grace, what in my conscience, in my soul, is awakened, aroused when I not only listen, but reflect on his message? Maybe my own arrogance has allowed me to see only what I want to see and hear only what I want to hear!

But there is something quite tender in the message of John the Baptist. Whereas we can use stones to build up great structures to protect ourselves, or use stones to throw at people, John the Baptist reminds us that God can also use these very same hardened stones - and turn them into children! What does that say? God seeks to transform the hardened heart into a complex and intricate heart of flesh - for it is a heart humble and contrite He will never turn away. 

But finally, because we need, not a tug of war, but instead a sacred sense of tension in our hearts, John the Baptist provides us with an image of a mighty axe that seems poised and ready to do its job. Yet even while bringing it so near in a mighty swoop, it stops short, inches away from the root of the tree, as if frozen in time. Maybe that is because God’s grace comes to us, not like a lightning bolt to tear us apart but rather like an unquenchable flame that we can warm up to gradually - allowing it to comfort, as well as slowly cleansing us of all our impurities outside as well as inside.  So, let us ask God to rescue us, even from ourselves, by finding a hidden way into our hearts and souls so that, with His grace, we might judge wisely the things of earth in all their goodness while holding on to the things of heaven that are eternal.

He Ascended into Heaven

Not so long ago, I had the opportunity, a privilege, to offer the graveside prayers at our Catholic cemetery in San Diego. Founded in 19...