3rd Sunday of Advent

THIRD SUNDAY OF ADVENT (A-1)

Our Lady of Grace, Edina
Sunday, December 15, 2013

BY THE MOST REVEREND JOHN C. NIENSTEDT

                       Readings:       Is 35:1-6a

                                                 Jas 5:7-10

                                                 Mt 11:2-11          

Proclaim the greatness of God,

Rejoice in God, my Savior

Rejoice in God, my Savior!

 

Today is commonly known as Gaudete Sunday, as the entrance antiphon to this Third Sunday of Advent begins with the Latin word “Gaudete,” which means “rejoice.”:  “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice!”  The cause of our joy is, of course, the three comings of the Lord at Christmas, namely: his birth at Bethlehem, His triumphant return at the end of the world, and finally His Presence here with us today in the Blessed Sacrament.  In many ways our joy is a direct result of our hopes and expectations to meet the Lord whenever He comes.  As I reflected on the Scriptures today, it seemed to me that a common thread in all of these readings is our call to be men and women of hope.

Take, for example, our second reading from St. James.  The Christians of his day wanted the second coming to happen soon.  They couldn’t wait.  The apostle counsels them to be like farmers expecting a harvest.  They plow the field, plant the seed and then wait with great hope for that seed to burst forth as a growing plant that will bear fruit with corn, beans, sugar beets, or whatever had been planted.

The first reading gives us a very dramatic and idealized vision of this same reality: the parched land of the desert suddenly blossoms forth with abundant flowers.  Those who were blind now see; the deaf hear; the lame leap and the mute speak.  This is the hope that the Old Testament people nourished during the reign of King Hezekiah, which began with great promise, but ended in disappointment.  Because their faith in him floundered, the Jewish nation saw more clearly their need for faith in God who is able to heal them and restore them to wholeness.

Today’s Gospel tells us that John the Baptist, in prison and at the end of his life, begins to question whether his cousin, Jesus, really is the object of his hope as the Messiah he expected.

From early on, John had expected a fiery preacher proclaiming immanent judgment, someone who would reveal to the people the terror of the end of time.  Jesus had done none of this.  Instead he was preaching a message of love, forgiveness and compassion and was putting that preaching into practice.

Jesus tells John’s disciples to report to their master what they have seen and heard.  He makes an explicit reference to our first reading about the eyes of the blind being opened, the ears of the deaf being cleared and the dead being raised to life.  In other words, Jesus is the fulfillment of Scripture, even though he didn’t fulfill the traditional expectations of the hope that many, like John, had come to expect.

In his second encyclical, entitled Saved by Hope, or Spe Salvi in Latin, Pope-emeritus Benedict XVI, reflected on the importance of the virtue of hope.  At one point, he writes that hope is not only informative, which is to say, it communicates truths that can be known, but it is also performative, making things happen that can change people’s lives.  He says, “The one who hopes lives, differently; the one who hopes has been granted the gift of a new life.”

Then the Pope makes reference to St. Josephine Bakhita, who was canonized by his predecessor, Blessed John Paul II, on October 1, 2000.  (Her feast day is celebrated on February 8).  Born in the Sudan, she was kidnapped at the age of nine and sold five times in the Sudanese slave-market.  She was emotionally and psychologically abused, flogged every day until she bled.  As a result she carried 144 scars on her body throughout her life.

Eventually, she was bought by an Italian merchant who brought her to Venice, Italy.  Through this Italian owner, she came to know a totally different kind of master, the one she called “paron”, the living God of Jesus Christ.

This new master was good and kind and loving.  Through an  encounter with him, she learned that she was loved and that she was a free child of God.  For the first time in her life, she became a woman of hope.  Eventually, she joined the Congregation of the Canossian Sisters and spent the rest of her life handing on to others the hope that was born in her by conversion, a hope she felt compelled to extend to others. 

My dear friends, I suggest to you Saint Josephine as a patroness, an intercessor for the trials that we have been going through these past ten weeks here in the Archdiocese.

The negative news reports about past incidents of clerical sexual abuse in this local Church have rightly been met with shame, embarrassment and outrage that such heinous acts could be perpetrated by men who had taken priestly vows as well as bishops who failed to remove them from ministry.

I am here to apologize for the indignation that you justifiably feel.  You deserve better.  While only one of the crimes against minors has happened in this Archdiocese since 2002, that is still one too many.  But, if we review carefully the list of 34 priests that was disclosed a week ago in The Catholic Spirit, the majority of those allegations go back to the 1970’s and 1980’s.  Again, that is not to excuse those actions or diminish the harm done to their victims.  But it does indicate that progress is being made in reducing the incidence of such terrible misconduct.  There is reason, even now, to be hopeful.

Throughout the past three months, my staff and I have committed to four critical goals:

1)                To ensure safe environments for everyone in our Churches, Catholic schools or religious programs, especially minors and vulnerable adults;

2)               To reach out to victims so as to promote their process of healing;

3)               To regain the trust of our Catholic faithful;

4)               To reassure our clergy of our deep and abiding gratitude for their tireless and self-giving service, and to assure them of our commitment to them and to their legal and canonical rights.

With your prayer and God’s grace, I believe that we will emerge from this difficult period to become a stronger, more focused, more prayerful and more purified local Church.  But the key to that process lies in our ability to remain a people of hope—hope not in our own resources, but rather hope in the person of Jesus Christ, who can make all things new.

My brothers and sisters, the Holy Eucharist that we receive today is not just informative, assuring us that we are loved by the Lord in a personal and intimate way.  This Holy Eucharist is also performative, meaning that it can make us a people of action who can address past wrongs and find ways to do better in the future. 

Even in the midst of the unwanted media attention we are experiencing these days, let us never forget that we are an Advent people, a people of hope.  Let us pray that the Lord will fill us with an abundance of that great virtue, so that we can, like St. Josephine Bakhita, transform the present situation before us into something salvific, saved by our hope in the Lord Jesus.

Proclaim the greatness of God,

Rejoice in God, my Savior

Rejoice in God, my Savior!

 

Homily Date: 
Sunday, December 15, 2013