26 December 2008

Homilies: Third & Fourth Sundays of Advent, Christmas Day

[NB. I have to apologize for getting these three homilies posted so late. Though they are here long after their proper liturgical time, I hope and pray you will find them helpful. As promised, I will be taking several days away from blogging as I get some school work done. Please continue to comment. I will to continue to post comments but not respond myself. Have a blessed New Year and keep those prayers coming!]

Gaudete Sunday: Is 61.1-2a, 10-11; 1 Thes 5.16-24; John1.6-8, 19-28
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Convento SS Domenico e Sisto, Roma

If, while flipping through the cable channels and surfing the web, reading the news and watching it, if you are not yet convinced that the Church is being called go “whole hog” as the Body of Christ, the Prophet, then I don’t think you are paying very careful attention to “the signs of the times.” More and more, as we resist the temptations to submit ourselves as believers in the Truth to the lowest common denominators of secular culture, more and more our resistance to assimilation and our insistence on our identity are seen as combative, strident, radical, even extremist. As the center moves left, those who stand their ground quickly fall out of the mainstream, becoming freaks in monkish isolation, denizens of an edging-fringe that seems only to cut itself, suicidally bent on being right no matter the costs. We do not need to rehearse recent attacks on the Church in detail—the BVM as Playboy model; the soon-to-be-released “Gay Bible;” Catholic hospitals performing abortions, to quickly name just a few—no details are necessary b/c we feel the pressure; we see it: the little loses in court over free speech and free exercise issues; the small nudges toward secular accommodation in how we govern our parishes; compromises with health care corporations when our Catholic hospitals are sold; anti-Christian faculty in our Catholic schools and colleges; attempts to secularize the culture even more by de-Christianizing Christmas; and on and on. If you don’t see it, feel it, taste it, hear it…well, you ain’t paying attention! And if you aren’t paying attention, how will you ever be a voice crying in the secular wilderness? How will you ever be a prophet crying out, “Make way for the coming of the Lord!”?

The Jewish priests from Jerusalem, hearing that a prophet has appeared in Bethany, proclaiming the coming of the Messiah, seek out this prophet to test him. They find John the Baptist preaching the advent of the Lord and ask him if he is the prophet, Elijah. He says, “No.” They press him. Who are you? He says in answer, quoting the prophet Isaiah, “I am the voice of one crying out in the desert, ‘make straight the way of the Lord…’” Now, we know that John is not among the more reputable characters in scripture. He’s, um, less than hygienic. Has some pretty strange dietary habits. Claims to baptize folks with water in the name of a coming Messiah. Is way too humble to be a real preacher or prophet. He’s an all-around dodgy fellow who comes out of the desert yelling about the Lord and flailing about with these out-dated morals, flinging accusations of malfeasance at public officials. Any of us might read about him on SpiritDaily, give an easy chuckle, and click over to the Drudge Report, forgetting all about him.

So, how are you going to be prophetic? How will pick up the prophetic slack and draw the noose of righteousness tighter around the neck of our deaf, dumb, and blind culture? Appearing out of the desert like John the Baptist will get you certified and hospitalized. We can no longer hear that voice crying out in the wilderness. Now, it seems, prophets need degrees, corporate sponsorship, a logo and tag line, maybe an entourage and a structured hairdo. Certainly they need stadium-sized pulpits, PR toadies, and one or two scandals to give them the appearance of being somewhat human. But these powdered, pampered, and perfumed frauds wouldn’t know a decent prophecy if it fell through their limo sunroof and scuffed their Ferragamo’s. They only sing the hymns our shopping mall religious culture demands to hear. Prophets never tell us what we want to hear. They never point to the horizon of your comfortable expectations and assure us that that break of the dawn is as easy as a credit card number and an internet connection.

John shows these priests and elders something that shakes them at the root. He points toward a horizon star-long and sky-wide. He tells them something they have long wanted to hear but feared to listen to. Rather, he shows them someone; tells them about someone; points toward someone, someone who will not only wash their need away but bring them to their human perfection in his own promised death, a death that begins right at the point where their worst sins meet his best mercies. John brings them Christ. And that’s the kind of prophet we must be. The kind that climbs and claws out of the desolate wasteland of Me-driven clamoring for more and more things to tip over into our bottomless black holes of need and show this world the joy of Christ!

Prophets see the future not as it will be but as it should be; or rather, as the Father promises it can be if we will but listen and act according to His truth. Our joy is not a glassy-eyed, blank grin of stupidity, or a fawning niceness to sweeten evil; nor is our joy a perpetual state of excitement or the search for the highs of liminal experience. Our joy, the joy we receive from Christ, is the exhilaration we know and feel because we know and feel the approaching fulfillment of his promise to come to us again and again, to return over and over every time we call, every time we need him. Even when we are fully prepared and willing to tip ourselves into the well of despair, especially when we are ready to surrender to the dark, our hope is in the name of the Lord. He is our rock bottom and our highest reach. And as his prophets we are charged with shouting—along with Isaiah, John the Baptist, Mother Mary—shouting out our YES to his gift of life. And not only that but making absolutely sure that our thundering yes bounces off the ears of anyone willing to hear and listen. If those who live with us and near us don’t see our joy, feel it, taste it, hear it…well, we ain’t shouting loud enough or clear enough! We aren’t doing enough.

So, how will you become a prophet of joy, crying out in this wilderness, “Make way for the coming of the Lord!”?

4th Sunday of Advent: 2 Sm 7:1-5, 8-14, 16; Rom 16:25-27; Luke 1:26-38
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Convento SS Domenico e Sisto, Roma

Unless Samuel Beckett is right, and we wait for Nothing when we wait on Godot, then when we wait, we wait in need. There is something or someone we do not know, something or someone we do not have; yet feel, yet know we must have; so, we wait. When we wait, we desire. Waiting is what the body does with unfilled desire. We sit here or walk there, or stand, leaning against someone stronger or more patient, perched right on the edge of bounding up in mock surprise to shout, “Finally!” Exasperated, or relieved in anger. You are here. Finally! I have you. But it is too soon yet to claim victory, to claim our prize for patient waiting. Unlike Estragon and his philosophical friend, Vladmir, both waiting for Godot, our advent clock has many more ticks and tocks before the final gift is dropped, before our longest longing is eased, and our waiting in hope is rewarded with the birth of the Word into the world. What we have to wait with today is Mary’s surrender, the end of her anticipation as she answers the archangel’s call to be the ark of the Lord, His tent in flesh: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” If and when, in our waiting and in our desiring, if and when we surrender, what happens?

This week of our long wait begins a headlong fall into the celebration of the birth of the Word into the world. In just one week, we sit up and notice one more time that hope is born for us; faith is pushed out from eternity and into our lives; love is gifted with a body, a mind, a soul for our sakes. In just one week, the one John the desert prophet promised arrives and begins his thirty-three year presence to those who have waited for centuries. But today, this last Sunday of our waiting, we party with the angels as they and we hear a young Jewish woman, confronted with a choice by the archangel Gabriel, we all hear her choose life—his, hers, ours, and the world’s. We all hear her choose to be the mother of God, the God- Bearer. “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Look! I serve the Lord. Let His will be for me as you say it is.

What would happen to your life if, every morning from now on, you awake up and say aloud, “I serve the Lord. Let His will be mine.” First, understand that this is a prayer of priestly sacrifice. All the elements of sacrifice are present in that one prayer: you are a priest offering yourself as victim to a loving God on the altar of your day. Second, once sacrificed with this prayer, this act of human will, you belong body and soul to He Who made you. He made you and his love holds you in being as His creation. Your prayer of sacrifice is an act of gratitude, of giving thanks. Third, if you will do His will you will expend your day in His service as His handmaid, his servant. Every thought you have, every act you do, every passion you feel has already been given over to the fulfillment of His will. Fourth, His will for all His servants is to love Him, love ourselves, and love our neighbors. We are able to love, that is, we are gifted with the capacity for love, to love in virtue of our creation by Love Himself. He loved us first so that we might love. Lastly, as His willing priests, our lives are made new again, reconstituted from the smallest cell out, gifted with the newest possible life available, the life of His Son. We are made Christ for others. We are the walking Word, the talking Word, the feeling, doing, working Word—priests forever now in an entirely sacrificial life of becoming perfectly His will in the flesh.

This young Jewish woman, given a choice by Gabriel, says YES to His will for her, and becomes the first Christian priest and prophet, the template from whom all of us as future priests and prophets will be pressed out. On the cross, dying for our sakes, the Lord himself follows his mother in saying yes. Abandoned by his friends, betrayed by one he loves, despairing, seemingly lost to pain and death, and believing himself to have been forsaken to his enemies, our Lord will cry out to His Father, “Yes! I will all that you will!” His life of perpetual sacrifice begins. This is what we long for. This is what we desire, what we need. Though we are constantly deflected and distracted in our priestly obligations to be love and to love others, we nonetheless know and feel the ineffable hollowness of a life that refuses to love, that wills not to be one for another.

Advent is one long Mass of Thanksgiving and Praise, a month-long prayer of rejoicing and sacrifice as we turn away from sin and toward our perfection in Christ. What must we do? Unclench your fist. Unlock your heart. Fling open wide your mind. Make straigth the path of the Lord to your very existence. Say YES! And join Christ at the altar as priest and victim. He is coming. He has come. He will come again. Wait. Need. Desire. And the flood of God as the Gift of Love Himself will overwhelm you and make you Christ.

Christmas Day: Is 52:7-10; Heb 1:1-6; Jn 1:1-18
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Convento SS Domenico e Sisto, Roma

God does Who He Is: Love. God is Love; therefore, He loves. The surest sign that we are given as a witness to this truth is the birth of His Word among us as a man.

Who is this Word given flesh in the body of our Mother?

Paul writes to the Hebrews that our Lord speaks to us through His Son, the Son whom He made His heir to all the things of heaven and earth, and through whom He brought the universe into being from nothing; the Son who is the shining radiance of His beauty and truth; the Son who is “the very imprint of His being;” the Son who sustains by his potent word all that he has been given.

Who is he?

John the apostle pulls back the veil and reveals to us that in the beginning, from the establishment of all that is from the void, the Word was, and that God’s Word was there with Him, and that this Word was God. John writes, “He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be.”

Who is he for us now?

John the apostle pulls back the veil again and reveals to us again that in the beginning and even now, from the establishment of all that is from the void and even now, the Word Is, and that God’s Word is there with Him even now, and that this Word is God—then, now, always. John writes, “He [is] in the beginning with God. All things [come] to be through him, and without him nothing [comes] to be.”

God does Who He Is: Love. God is Love; therefore, He loves. The surest sign that we are given as a witness to this truth is the birth of His Word among us as a man. We have waited. Needed. Desired. We are turned toward the advent of his coming.

He is here.

John the apostle pulls back the veil and reveals to us that all that came to be and is, came to be and is through him and is life; and this life, his life, is the light of all peoples, all nations, all tribes, all races, all tongues; for all our needs, all our godly desires, all of weaknesses, all our triumphs, all our failures; for all of us who will hear and listen and act in love as priests and prophets of His Word; this light shines in the darkness of violence, hunger, poverty and oppression; this light shines in the decaying reek of injustice, death, disease, and suffering; this light shines in the blackest pits of our despair, self-loathing, anxiety, disobedience, and the murder of innocence; this light burns in the darkness and the darkness cannot extinguish it.

The glory of God, His eternal Word, becomes flesh and bone with the YES of a virgin; he is born and makes his home among us. If we will see, we will see his glory, the glory of the Father’s only Son, filled with His truth, beauty, and goodness; and not only will we see, but we will be illuminated, brightened, made to shine like the Son, sharing wholly and pure, made perfect in His divine life.

The Father sent His Spirit to Mary to give her the seed of His Word so that she could make for Him a son of flesh and bone—a man like one of us, to walk among us, to talk with us, to love us passionately and sacrificially to his death.

Today, he is born.

He makes those who will hear and listen, those who will look and see, he makes us his sisters and brothers, children of God, heirs to the Kingdom of heaven and the glory of God; of those who believe in his name, sacrifice as his priests, prophesy as his prophets, of us he makes “other Christs” so that we might live and teach and preach his Word, and live and die with Mary’s YES on our lips, rising again to His brilliance at the end of this age to live again in His light.

Today, from His boundless abundance “we have all received, grace in place of grace.” Today, he is born. Today, we are born again.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Aspiring,

    You are very kind to take the time to comment and I appreciate your appreciation!

    We give thanks to the Holy Spirit for his many gifts, especially for the gift of the Word!