Monday, December 23, 2013

Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Advent

Prædicans Baptismum Pœnitentiae
in Remissionem Peccatorum

Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Advent

Extraordinary Form- St. Joseph’s Troy, NY
22nd of December 2013

Rev. Michael Taylor

Epistle:            I Corinthians 4.1-5
Gospel:            Luke 3.1-6

            So, in the past couple of weeks, we have been having readings that really are more about preparing for the second coming of Christ as we prepare to celebrate his first coming. Indeed, it is not uncommon for the themes of preaching during the season of Advent to be about what are called the four last things; death, judgment, heaven and hell. That being said, we come to today’s Gospel and we have John the Baptist speaking about repentance. But what does that mean? If we want to understand what John is speaking about and ultimately what Christ’s return means, we need to understand the Jewish viewpoint of what God’s arrival means.
            When we try and figure out what exactly it is that God has done, we begin to understand what He is going to do. In Deuteronomy, Moses speaks to the people of Israel saying, I call heaven and earth to witness this day, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Choose therefore life, that both thou and thy seed may live! [1] God lays out this law for the people to abide by. The question must be asked though, why is this law so important? Why does adherence to it garner a blessing and for those who forsake, a curse is received? The answer to that is that God has not laid out some moral code to follow, some abstract rules and regulations imposed upon us by some distant authority. Rather, the Lord has revealed the truth of how to live as truly human beings. These aren’t rules that are just good for the people of Israel. They are a revelation of what it means to be authentically human. It’s why again in the same speech from Moses we find him saying, the word [of the Lord] is very near unto thee, in thy mouth and in thy heart, that thou mayst do it.[2] It’s what the blessed Apostle refers to in Romans when he writes, For when the Gentiles, who have not the law, do by nature those things that are of the law; these having not the law are a law to themselves; who shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness to them, and their thoughts between themselves accusing…[3] That is why sin is so egregious an offense, because we are rebelling against our very selves. We are a creature that turns to the Creator and have the audacity to say we know how govern ourselves better than the one who formed us. It is what the Prophet warns against when he writes, woe to you that are deep of heart, to hide your counsel from the Lord; and their works are in the dark, and they say: “Who seeth us, and who knoweth us?” This thought of yours is perverse: as if the clay should think against the potter, and the work should say to the maker thereof; “Thou madest me not”: or the thing framed should say to him that fashioned it: “Thou understandest not.” [4] So there becomes the need for repentance and contriteness of heart.

            We must ask ourselves, even if with fear and trepidation of the answer; why does the Lord wait to come in justice? Every culture and every society has a genre of apocalyptic literature and mythos, an understanding that there will come a time of judgment and of finality. It is a point of anxiety to us all. Indeed, we as the faithful know that this is true, as it is written in both the Old Testament and the New. The Prophet foretells this when he writes, Behold, the day of the Lord shall come, a cruel day, and full of indignation, and of wrath, and fury, to lay the land desolate, and to destroy the sinners thereof out of it [5] and the Beloved Apostle confirms the Prophet in his vision when he wrote Then the kings of the earth and the great men and the generals and the rich and the strong, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains: and they say to the mountains and the rocks; “Fall upon us, and hide us from the face of Him that sitteth upon the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb: for the great day of their wrath is come, and who shall be able to stand?” [6]

The Last Judgment- Michelangelo 

            The answer to this is that the Lord desires our salvation, not our condemnation. As the Apostle wrote, For God hath not appointed us unto wrath, but unto the purchasing of salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ who died for us.[7] Our Lord Jesus Himself confirms these words when He said to Nicodemus, “For God sent not His Son into the world, to judge the world, but that the world may be saved by Him.[8] Thus the Lord stays His day of judgment so that more might be bought to salvation, as Peter writes, The Lord delayeth not His promise, as some imagine, but dealeth patiently for your sake, not willing that any should perish, but that all should return to penance. Creation was created for the sake of getting us to heaven. As Saint Basil the Great affirms as he preached, “To this world at last it was necessary to add a new world, both a school and training place where the souls of men should be taught and a home for beings destined to be born and to die.” [9] So for those who believe in Christ, we are spared from the wrath of God, as again our Lord makes clear to Nicodemus, He that believeth in Him [the Son] is not judged. But he that doth not believe, is already judged; because he believeth not in the name of the only begotten Son of God.[10]
There is more to this than just the individual though. The way of God is not revealed to us as individuals, as if our account was held only between the Lord and us as isolated cases. Rather, the will of God is revealed to a people. Time and time again in Holy Scriptures this is revealed, such as when Moses said, Thou art a holy people to the Lord thy God: and He chose thee to be His peculiar people of all the nations that are upon the earth.[11] Or as the Psalmist sings, [The Lord] declareth His word to Jacob: his justices and his judgments to Israel. He hath not done thus to every nation: and His judgments He hath not made manifest to them. Alleluia.[12] Or as the Blessed Prince of the Apostles writes, we who in times past were not a people: but are now the people of God.[13] We are called to live according to the way of God and to do so as a people; it for is impossible for us to do it by ourselves. Indeed, we are called to be faithful in a way as intimate as a family dedicates itself to a single goal. For this reason we find Joshua proclaiming Now therefore fear the Lord, and serve Him with a perfect and most sincere heart: and put away the gods which your fathers served in Mesopotamia and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. But if it seem evil to serve the Lord, you have your choice: choose this day that which pleaseth you, whom you would rather serve, whether the gods which your fathers served in Mesopotamia or the gods of the Amorrhites, in whose land you dwell: but as for me and my house we will serve the Lord [14] or why Cornelius brought his entire family to be baptized by Peter.[15] This is why when in the Old Testament, when God speaks of salvation, He speaks of it as coming to His people. As the Lord says, “Listen to me, my people, and give ear to me, my nation; for a law will go forth from me, and my justice for a light to the peoples. My deliverance draws near speedily, my salvation has gone forth…[16]
What does this matter for us though? We are a sick body. If we, in faith believe that we are one body thought the cross [17] of Christ, then we are very sick. If the recent surveys can be relied upon, only about 30% of people who identify themselves as Catholic attend mass on a weekly basis. That means that 70% of those identify themselves as Catholic are in a state of grave sin, spurning the invitation of the King to the wedding feast of His Son.[18] Yet they are still our brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus through baptism. It means that our body has atrophied, and how can a body that is 3/4th diseased be considered healthy? Can we remain silent while our brothers and sisters live in grave sin? Does not the prophet Ezekiel warn us on the dangers of remaining silent? And the Lord says, If I say to the wicked, “You shall surely die,” and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, in order to save his life, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand.[19]
And so we return to John the Baptist, standing in the desert and preaching repentance. It was for love of those in danger of judgment that drove him out there, to give up on the pleasantries of life so that the message of repentance and forgiveness could be preached. And this goes to speak of the tone that we must have when we speak of the need for penance. If I see an alcoholic  and say to him, “you are a bad person because you drink,” what have I accomplished? Yet if I see an alcoholic and say to him, “I love you too much to just let you do this to yourself. Don’t you see that if you keep living this way, you’ll kill yourself? You mean too much to me for me to just stand by and do nothing.” Then they can see that it is out of love for them that I mention harsh truths. We must do the same to our brothers and sisters who are separated from the faith. Whatever the sin might be, whether it is living in sin, no attendance of mass, a disbelief in the faith or in Holy Mother Church, we must speak out, doing the truth in charity.[20]

We see the example of this in John the Baptist. We find in scripture that his message is Do penance, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.[21] Do penance. How harsh these words must seem. Do penance. Repent. Repent because the way you’re living is not adequate. Repent because you are in sin. Repent because the Lord is coming, and you are not in a state worthy of receiving Him. How harsh these words can seem to the ear. Yet the people flocked to John. Why? Because he also preached a baptism for the forgiveness of sins, a foreshadowing of the baptism of fire and the Spirit that Christ would institute. John held in his hands both the reality of our sins and the hope, the possibility of forgiveness. This is what we too must do. If we point out to them the gravity of their sins, we must at the same time point out the hope of overcoming our sins through the grace and mercy of Christ Jesus. We must never leave them without hope. Let us thus go out into the world so that people might be brought to Christ. Let us bring people back to Church. Let us bring them back to the mercy of the Confessional and the redemption found in the Most Blessed Sacrament. Too much is at stake to remain silent.

[1] Deuteronomy 30.19
[2] Deuteronomy 30.14
[3] Romans 2.14-15
[4] Isaiah 29.15-16
[5] Isaiah 13.9
[6] Revelation 6.15-17
[7] I Thessalonians 5.9-10
[8] John 3.17
[9] St. Basil. “Homily I” Hexaemeron. §5
[10] John 3.18
[11] Deuteronomy 14.2
[12] Psalm 147.20
[13] I Peter 2.9
[14] Joshua 24.14-15
[15] cf. Acts 10
[16] Isaiah 51.4-5
[17] Ephesians 1.16
[18] cf. Matthew 22.1-14
[19] Ezekiel 3.18
[20] Ephesians 4.15
[21] Matthew 3.2

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