"Most High, glorious God, cast Your Light into the darkness of my heart, and grant me a right faith, certain hope and perfect charity, sense and understanding, Lord, so that I may know and do Your holy and true command."
- St. Francis of Assisi: Prayer before the Crucifix
Friday, November 30, 2012
Looking for Jesus
HOMILY FOR THE FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT, December 2, 2012: . Click here to listen to a Podcast of this homily: First Sunday of Advent
One of Leo Tolstoy’s stories is
called “The Cobbler and His Guest.” I’d like to share it with you today: In the city of Marseilles there was an old
shoemaker named Martin who was loved and honored by his neighbors. One Christmas Eve, as he sat alone in his
little shop reading of the visit of the Wise Men to the infant Jesus, and of
the gifts they brought, he said to himself. "If tomorrow were the first
Christmas, and if Jesus were to be born in Marseilles this night, I know what I
would give Him!" He rose from his stool and took from a shelf overhead two
tiny shoes of softest snow- white leather, with bright silver buckles. "I
would give Him these, my finest work." Replacing the shoes, he blew out the candle
and retired to rest. Hardly had he closed his eyes, it seemed, when he heard a
voice call his name..."Martin! Martin! You have wished to see Me. Tomorrow
I shall pass by your window. If you see Me, and bid Me enter, I shall be your
guest at your table."
Martin did not sleep that night for joy. And before dawn he rose
and tidied up his shop. On the table he
placed a loaf of white bread, a jar of honey, and a pitcher of milk, and over
the fire he hung a pot of tea. Then he took up his vigil at the window. Soon he saw an old street-sweeper pass by,
blowing upon his thin, gnarled hands to warm them. "Poor fellow, he must
be half frozen," thought Martin. Opening the door he called out to him,
"Come in, my friend, warm yourself, and drink a cup of hot tea." And
the man gratefully accepted the invitation.
An hour passed, and Martin saw a young, miserably clothed women
carrying a baby. She paused wearily to rest in the shelter of his doorway. The
heart of the old cobbler was touched. Quickly he flung open the door. "Come in and warm while you rest,"
he said to her. "You do not look well," he remarked. "I am going to the hospital. I hope they
will take me in, and my baby boy," she explained. "My husband is at
sea, and I am ill, without a soul."
"Poor child!" cried Martin. "You must eat something while
you are getting warm. Let me give a cup of milk to the little one. What a
bright, pretty fellow he is! Why have you put no shoes on him?" "I have no shoes for him," sighed
the mother. "Then he shall have this lovely pair I finished
yesterday." Martin took down from
the shelf the soft little snow-white shoes he had admired the evening before.
He slipped them on the child's feet...they fit perfectly. The poor young mother
left, two shoes in her hand and tearful with gratitude.
Martin resumed his post at the window. Hour after hour went by,
and although many people passed his window, and many needy souls shared his
hospitality, the expected Guest did not appear. "It was only a dream," he sighed,
with a heavy heart. "He has not come." Suddenly the room was flooded with a strange
light. And to the cobbler's astonished vision there appeared before him, one by
one, the poor street-sweeper, the sick mother and her child, and all the people
whom he had aided during the day. And each smiled at him and said. "Have
you not seen me? Did I not sit at your table?" Then they vanished. At last, out of the silence, Martin heard
again the gentle voice repeating the old familiar words. "For I was hungry
and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you
welcomed me…Whatever you did for one of the least brothers and sisters of mine,
you did for me.”
Today is the First Sunday of Advent
and for us it is the start of a new Church year. We find ourselves today once again back at
the beginning of our liturgical cycle.
We triumphantly celebrated Jesus Christ as our Lord and King last
weekend and now we go back to the beginning of the story; back to Chapter one
of the story of how Jesus came and saved us.
In this liturgical cycle, we start
with the things that prepared us for the coming Savior and so today we heard
from the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah who began with the words, “The days are
coming, says the LORD, when I will
fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and Judah.” That promise of course, was fulfilled in
Jesus. Likewise our Gospel called us to begin to seek the signs that something
momentous is on the horizon, something unprecedented, something that will
forever change our lives.
As our Church year has come to its
close the last two weeks, it was a time to review the year behind. Where did last
year’s journey take us? Did the practice
of our faith make a difference? Did we
grow in holiness? Today, I offer a
different challenge. In January, when we
have our new calendar year, many of us will engage in the cultural practice of
making New Year’s Resolutions. Often those
resolutions are very superficial. We
will resolve to eat less chocolate, to lose 10 pounds, to watch less
television. Sometimes, they are more meaningful – we resolve to be a nicer
person, to swear less, to be kinder to strangers.
But today, at the beginning of this
Church year, I challenge all of us, myself included, to make some spiritual
resolutions. Where do we need to grow in
faith this year? Is it in our prayer
life? In our family life? In our workplace? Where is Jesus calling us to love more, to be
more bold in proclaiming His Word? Where
are we being challenged to grow in holiness this year?
Advent is a time to prepare for the
coming of the Lord. We remember both His historic arrival 2,000 years ago and
we look forward to His return again in glory.
But, as we look both back and forward, don’t forget to look down right
where we are to become always more aware of Christ’s daily arrival in the
ordinary events and the ordinary people in our lives. He wasn’t only present
2,000 years ago and at some point in the future – He is present right here in
our midst today.
Our Gospel today reminds us that we
should be vigilant to recognize and welcome the Lord who comes to us without
warning everyday in the people, the places and the events we least expect. If
we are preparing for the Lord’s coming by looking up to the sky, Luke today
invites us to instead look out, to look to the person on our right and our
left, to see the arrival of God that is before our eyes every day, to look into
the story of our daily lives and recognize the Lord who comes to us in the ways
we least expect.
Jesus doesn’t care how much money we make, how many fancy cars we
own, how nice our home is, how many people work for us. On Judgment Day, Jesus won’t even ask us how
many times we went to Church, or how many times we prayed – because those things
only have value if they have lead us to the main criteria for salvation – did we
love – without restraint, without condition, without measure? Our spiritual lives and prayer practices are
crucial, necessary, we can’t live or be saved without them. But, these prayers are only working if they lead
us to action, to love, to reaching out, to actively loving “these least brothers
and sisters of mine”.
didn't say that the poor would thank us, the hungry share with us, the
imprisoned welcome us back nor the sick be healed by our visits, but He did say
if we recognize His presence especially in them, we will be among those
welcomed into the eternal joy of life with Him in Heaven.
So, let us so resolve on this first
day of a new Church year, to be people ever more conscious of the presence and
action of Jesus in our lives in the big ways and in the small ways. Let us resolve to be people who witness to
that presence of Jesus in the lives of others – especially in those places that
have been difficult for us in the past.
Let us make this a holy Advent, leading to a holy Christmas, an even
holier year for us all.