17 December 2006

Firm and Patient or Mushy and Impatient?

3rd Sun of Advent: Isa 35.1-6, 10; James 5.7-10; Matt 11.2-11
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St. Paul’s Hospital, Dallas, TX

[NB. I wrote this homily using the readings for Advent Year A. I don't know why. Duh.]


Delta nights in December are always cold. We drive back home from our grandparents’ home on Christmas Eve. My little brother, Andy, and I would play Find Rudolph. We crane our necks backwards looking up through the Pontiac’s back window, pointing at every blinking red light and shouting out, “There’s Santa! I see him!” And I remember either mom or dad saying something like, “Naw, that’s not him. He’s going in the wrong direction” or “No, his sleigh is bigger than that.” Rather than discourage us, this sure bit of detail made our hearts firm in the certainty that Santa was coming. There was no doubt b/c he made an appearance every year w/o fail. The promise of his advent was never broken.

Clockwork. Tides. Sunrise and set. Seasons. Promises. Advent. Make your hearts firm and wait for the coming of the Lord! The Spirit of the Lord is upon us! Be patient and go tell everyone what you hear and see…

Even though he had met Jesus in the womb—both of them in the womb!—John the Baptist sends his disciples to ask Jesus this question: “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” Jesus, never one to shrink from a chance to witness to his Father’s power and might, preaches. He says, Go and witness to John what you have heard and seen. Go tell him that the blind see. The lame walk. The lepers are made clean. The dead are raised. And the poor have been told the Good News of God’s mercy. Is this an answer to the question? Jesus doesn’t say “Yes, I am he” or “No, keep on looking.” He says instead, Be a witness to what I have said and done. Testify to my words and deeds, proclaiming to my herald John all those things that confirm my anointing as the Promised One of God. Jesus charges John’s disciple with the mission of evangelizing John himself! The Herald, the One Who Comes Before needs to hear and see what the witnesses of Christ have heard and seen.

The testimony of a firm and patient heart given under the Spirit outruns the crowd-pleasing drama of a prophetic message every time. John knew who Jesus was. But he needed a witness. He needed evidence from just one heart and mind turned to Christ by Christ; a heart and mind expectant, poised on the edge of inviting grace, ready to fall freely, without clutching law, binding custom. John is everyone who must told, must be shown what Christ has done, is doing, and will do.

Therefore, make your hearts firm and wait for the coming of the Lord! The Spirit of the Lord is upon us! Be patient and go tell everyone what you hear and see…

What is the difference between a firm heart and mushy heart? A firm heart draws its power from the undeniable presence of the Most High. A mushy heart squeamishly borrows its meager pulse from ideas or emotions about the Most High. A firm heart loudly, proudly pumps the blood of holiness to every extremity. A mushy heart conserves its blood for the small work of mere piety done in fear. The biggest difference: a firm heart will draw other firm hearts, other muscular believers who put Christ at the center of their lives, who dream and work, sleep and play, grow and fall and get up again with the name of Jesus on their lips. A mushy heart attracts rot, decline, debauchery, false witness, rebellion, vanity; a mushy heart attracts and feeds smug, self-righteous dissent.

Wait, firm hearts, be patient! After all, what did you come to see? To hear? Did you come here to have your ears tickled and your eyes dazzled? Should we all stand and sway like limp reeds in the wind, pushed and pulled by every sweep of the clouds across the religious grasses; or, should we all get on the floor this morning moaning, lifted and felled by every weight or care or featherlight hurt?

When your heart is mushy and impatient where does it take you? Resentment? Fury? Violence? Self-indulgence? Blaming others? Paranoia? Sometimes I believe we worship in a Church that lifts up and coddles our basest wants, our most fickle flights of imagination and fantasy. We want maximum results for minimum effort, the grandest product for the most meager labor. We want the barest possible spirituality, the thinnest skin and bones of a way to heaven and we want nothing to block our choices, no one to count our sabotage of the faith in our disobedience. Make it light and airy, Father, basic, sugar-dipped, honey-spoken, and cheap. Mushy hearts revel in bleeding out pabulum, oozing out 100% nutrition-free jabber.

When your heart is firm and patient where does it take you? Gratitude? Trust? Peacefulness? Generosity? Responsibility? Full maturity in Christ? The Church is the Body of Christ ready for war against the flesh of this world—not our bodies, mind you! But the bloody raw meat of disobedience and violence that drives this culture, that’s the flesh of this world; our bodies are temples of the Spirit!—The Church, equipped as the Body of Christ, must be ready for battle against the monsters of this culture’s failed modernist experiment. Your firm and patient hearts must battle: the all-consuming impatience of technology to improve us; the drive by science to turn our children into lab rats; the suppression of Christian free-speech and worship by dogmatic secularists; the death of the rational mind in the academy and in our public schools; the rule of relativism in political debate; and, the fear of the stranger that sometimes clutches the firmest, most patient heart…and squeezes.

What did you come to this desert to see? A prophet? More than a prophet! You came to hear and see a witness. Let the Church testify in her clockwork seasons. The telling and retelling of promises. The party of the advent of the Lord.

Prepare the way of the Lord in your heart. He will come to rest for a moment and then stir. Shake. Stomp around and push. If it is a lazy spirituality we want go to Barnes & Noble and spend $30 on a Mother Goddess Tarot Card Ouija Board and do whatever it tells you to do. Trust me: it will never tell you to do anything you don’t already lust to do. But if you want this faith, this journey, this Way and you want it now and forever, then prepare his way, make ready the mansions in your heart, the palaces of your mind—the Lord is coming, ready to heal, ready to clean, ready to lift you up. But your witness—what you have heard and seen—must be told, must be spoken. Mushy and impatient hearts grow mold, stinky fungus and shed no blood. If John the Baptist needed a witness, how much more does the world need your witness. No one is interested in your lack of perfection. Everyone is interested in your encounter with Christ! Behold, the Judge is standing before the gates. Be firm and patient. Let him hear your testimony, let him see your trust in his promise of eternal life. And let Him rewind and play again your resistance to this world of disobedient flesh and malignant spirit.

Rejoice then and go tell those who must hear the Good News of salvation: the Messiah has come! And he is coming again! The promise of His advent will not be broken.


  1. Anonymous8:00 PM

    Wonderful homily, great sound quality. Thank you very much, Father.

  2. Anonymous10:46 PM

    very nice Father, very nice.