Isaiah 63: 16b-17, 19b; 64:2-71 Corinthians 1: 3-9Mark 13: 33-37
A benefit of a New Year is that it represents a fresh start. We can all easily think of there solutions that are made for the New Year which begins on January 1. As we are also aware, those resolutions easily fade away after a rather brief time. The First Sunday of Advent marks the beginning of a New Year in the life of the Church. It is a new beginning in the consideration of what is offered to us, what we possess by faith in God and faith in God’s presence with us. In many situations we may have done well in living out that faith and in the practice of that faith. An honest assessment by any of us, however, will let us know that we can all do better.
It was with this thought in mind, the idea of doing better, that suggested my consideration of how we might mark the “New Year’ of the Church. We first heard inspired words from the prophet, Isaiah. The very end of that particular passage contained a familiar image: we are clay who are molded and formed by God, a potter. There was another phrase in that passage, however, that led me to pause and to reflect: “would that you might meet us doing right.” Would that we might be known, not only by God, but by others, by the fact that we live out our lives “doing right.” Would that any one of us might be known and experienced, day after day, by how the love the goodness, and the mercy of God is evident in us. That, indeed, is the challenge that is raised to us as we consider the decisions and choices we make in speaking and acting during the course of any given day.
As we begin a New Year, and resolve to begin again a genuine effort to live out our faith, it is necessary, as Jesus admonishes us, to be watchful and on guard. We are to look out for any and all opportunities when God’s presence can be made known through us. It is in this way that the presence of God can be known and experienced in our world – by starting with us.
We need to realize, as St. Paul tells us today, what it means to be “enriched in every way.” It is in the manner that we give witness to Jesus Christ and his revelation that is confirmed in the way in which we live daily.
If, indeed we want that presence of God to be more evident in our world and in our lives, then we need to look at ourselves, examine words we speak, actions we do, the attitudes we assume and reflect. We must be willing to challenge ourselves and make what changes are required. We must live out in our lives the true peace we seek. We must become in our words and actions the non-violence we desire. We must affirm the uniqueness each of us possesses as images of our creator God. We must uphold and confirm the dignity and the worth of all lives.
With the beginning of a New Year that we, as Church recall on this First Sunday of Advent, we are called to renew our effort to be watchful and alert in all ways. This we do so that we may truly be found to be “doing right in our lives” by our good and gracious God.
Exekiel 34: 11-12, 15-171 Corinthians 15: 20-26Matthew 25: 31-46
Different calendars are simply a part of life – whether they are on a wall, in our pocket, on our phones. Of course, there is what we might call the normal calendar that goes from January to December. So many things are based on those dates, including income tax. The Federal Government’s fiscal calendar goes from October to October. We know that the fiscal calendar used by many businesses goes from July to July. Thus, it is not all that different or unusual that the Church has its own calendar. This calendar follows a cycle which begins next week with the First Sunday of Advent and concludes its year with this feast which honors Jesus Christ asUniversal King.
This thought came to mind: is recognizing Jesus Christ as King a statement of fact, or ought it be a question that is posed to us daily. We have spent the past twelve months recalling God’s entry into our world in the person of Jesus Christ; his ministry followed by his betrayal and execution; his triumphal defeat of death in hisResurrection to which we are all joined by our baptism; and then,weekly, as a believing community founded by the Apostles and enlightened by the Holy Spirit, we have listened to God’s message to us through inspired writers and, particularly, Saint Matthew. Now we are at the point of the conclusion of this cycle. So we might ask, is Jesus Christ truly “King” in our lives? Have the values, the teachings Jesus Christ proclaimed, taken hold and had an effect in the decisions and acts that influence our daily lives?
As a review, in a sense, we heard today what that truly effective presence ought to mean for us, how that effective presence ought to take hold and influence what we think, what we say, what we do. Ezechiel, an Old Testament prophet, spoke in a rather straightforward fashion. He addressed the failure of the leadership of the Chosen People of the Old Covenant. These were the sleek and strong that had neglected the needs that were around them. God, in the vision of Ezekiel, would enter in and intervene, described in the image of a shepherd. God would bring back the lost, bind up the injured, and heal the sick. This image is presented to us to remind us the presence of God in our lives with a loving care and mercy available to us.
In the imagery then employed by Jesus, this purpose of God is not abstract. It is to be carried on by us. The vision of the prophet of old is to be made real and active in the world through us. There is no other way of understanding what Jesus clearly states. The assessment, the evaluation, the judgment of our personal sincerity in being part of the ministry, the work, the reign of Christ the King is determined by the manner in which we effectively recognize the needs
not of ourselves but of those around us. It is measured by how we use whatever means available to us, living in our society today, to address the hungry, the thirsty, the foreign, the naked, the old, and those imprisoned by addiction, by violence or in so many other ways in their lives.
We can respond to this call. We can resolve effectively to act in and by ourselves because, as Saint Paul reminds us today, we are one with Christ who overcame death itself. There is no insurmountable object. Noting is impossible. We can overcome anything and everything that might see to control or defeat us. We can move beyond that self-focused, self-directed attitude that ultimately results in the death of our nature as images of God.
Is Christ the King of our lives? Is Christ and his revelation of God the central focus of the values and the outlook we possess? Do we, in union with Christ our King continue his ministry of revealing to our world in and through ourselves, the reality and the truth of our good and gracious God.
Proverbs 31: 10-13, 19-29, 30-311 Thessalonians 5: 1-6Matthew 25: 14-15, 19-21
Yesterday afternoon the wedding of Katherine O’Meara and William Gerken was celebrated here at St. Mel. In preparation for the ceremony, Kate and Bill selected, among others, the very same passage from the Book of Proverbs which we have just heard, the description of the “worthy wife.” In the context of a wedding ceremony, it is a very appropriate passage. A suggestion that I make, however, in reflecting on this passage, is that what is said of the wife is equally to be applied to the husband. Both spouses are called upon to be “worthy.” Each is to recognize and to share with one another the unfailing prize of self.
The insight offered by the author of these words is not to be limited to an application of marriage. A much deeper understanding is to be found, a much larger context is intended. Like much of the prophetic and wisdom teaching of the Old Testament, the intimate relationship that is to exist between God and God’s people, between God and ourselves, is to be viewed in terms of the ideal marriage: a relationship that is committed, faithful, enduring and permanent.
In the context of what we have heard today from this Scriptural passage, it is God who can be understood as the husband, whose heart, so to speak, has been entrusted to the people. It is God’s people, it is us, who are to be seen in the terms used to describe the “worthy wife.” All that is said about the worthy wife is to be said about us. We are the ones who are to proclaim to the world the value of the committed, faithful enduring relationship that exists between God and ourselves.
It is with these considerations in mind that we can hear the first part of the parable spoken by Jesus. God is the owner who has entrusted to each of us the vast wealth of life itself. All of us, like the servant in the story, are expected by the owner, our loving God, to have the will and the creativity to take what has been entrusted to us in our lives and invest this possession in such a way that its value and worth increase significantly through our efforts.
What Jesus proclaimed, what he taught, and what we profess to be our belief is Good News, a Gospel that is not static. It is genuinely dynamic. This message, this teaching about God and our relationship with God and with one another, is to be transformative. It is to be effective. It is to impact our lives and the lives of others through us. This faith is to be lived out
in specific ways, as the example of the worthy wife illustrates. It is to display loving hands caring for the needs of the home and reaching out to those outside the home who are in need. This faith is to be lived out by us as we are, as children of the light, children of the day. We do not live in fear of the unknown, but with a conviction that knows and lives in the presence of the Lord with us.
The dynamic life of a married couple is a sacrament. Their love for one another is to be a revelation of the love of God for us. So too are we, as Church, as the living Body of Christ in our world, a sacrament. Each of us is to be, as part of this Body of Christ, a vibrant revelation in our daily lives of the active and loving presence of our good and gracious God.
Wisdom 6: 12-161 Thessalonians 4: 13-14 Matthew 25: 1-13
I frequently make the suggestion to others, and often remind myself as well, to pray for wisdom. It is not a request that some sort of package of wisdom be infused from on high as a magical solution to some problem or situation. Rather, it is an earnest prayer to make use of abilities, to use insights gained, to use experiences, to clear away the distractions that often cloud the judgment that leads to an unwillingness to recognize the reality that is present to act accordingly.
This is apparent in the parable thatJesus told about the wise and the foolish virgins. What do the foolish young ladies in the story do, or not do? They did not think ahead. They did not prepare themselves for what they were called upon to do. They did not anticipate that there might be a delay, that they needed to be properly supplied. They were caught more, it would seem, in the thrill of the moment, their role in the wedding,their appearance perhaps, or the festivities to come. These distractions hindered them from the most important part of their duty: to accompany the groom as he brought his bride to his home.
On the other hand, the wise young ladies, the ones who exercised wisdom, may well have been equally thrilled with what they were to do. But they also gave the matter forethought. They recognized their need to be prepared for any eventuality. They did not allow these same distractions to affect their need to be prepared, to be ready for whatever might happen.
A prayer to achieve wisdom ought to be a part of our daily activities as human beings. This is especially true of a person who is committed to faith in God and faith in Jesus Christ. Wisdom is not something lofty or beyond. In the clever insight of the author we heard, it is at the gate, it is readily present. Wisdom is a reflection on our human experience, what we have learned by ourselves and from others. It gives an honest and solid perspective of what is involved in life and in living. Wisdom not only acknowledges the reality of God – something basic to true and honest living – it also recognizes that the God of our faith is present and available to us. It is the context of our faith that also reveals that our God is loving and merciful.
Wisdom, too, acknowledges that the inherent abilities we, and all human creatures of God, possess to reflect our Creator God. This we are to do in the respect and the dignity we accord to ourselves and to others. It is the same love and mercy that is essential to what we are as images of God.
So often we allow the distractions of the moment to interfere with genuine wisdom being present and effective in us. Distractions may be pride, or envy, or the desire to hurt or diminish another, or selfishness, or whatever we might do to make ourselves look better to the detriment of other. These are things we do in words or actions, or just in thought.
In a way, St. Paul was also pointing out the wisdom of the faith that the Thessalonians needed to have. They were allowing the natural grief at the time of the loss of those who died to be a controlling factor in their lives. This distracted them from the meaning of the faith they professed. It was faith in Jesus Christ who had also died, but who overcame death and rose from the grave. He calls all of us to share in the full meaning of eternal life in union with God. This same faith is ours and ought to be found active and present in us. It is to affect how live and how we act every day.
Wisdom is that balance of living in this wold convinced and assured of the love and mercy of God. It is making that love and mercy evident in our vision of life. This is the oil that is to light the lamps of our lives. Filled with this oil we are to enlighten our world that is so darkened by human tragedies. We are to enlighten our world through ourselves with the presence and meaning of our good and gracious God.
Exodus 22: 20-26 1 Thessalonians 1: 5c-10 Matthew 22: 34-40
At every celebration of Mass, after saying the “Our Father” together, and before we exchange a greeting of peace in preparation for sharing in the Eucharist, I lead us all in a prayer that has long had particular meaning for me. In that prayer, our gracious God is asked “look not on our sins.” We ask God not to consider the many ways in which we have failed or diminished how we might reflect our loving God in our lives. We go on to ask God to look “on our faith,” to consider the efforts that we make to live out our beliefs, to put these beliefs into practice each day.
As much as this makes a demand on us, we pray this with trust and with confidence that our gracious God will surround us and join us together as an assembly of believers, as a Church, in peace and in unity. This is a powerful prayer. It is a prayer that expresses the hope that our faith, and the living of that faith, will have more meaning and purpose in our relationship with God and, especially, in our relationships with one another – all others – in our daily lives.
I offer this thought for consideration today because of what we can understand from the teaching of Jesus to which we have listened. What we have heard from the Scriptures is put before us both clearly and simply. The whole of our relationship with God is summarized in simple rules for living: love God, love neighbor. We know this. We have hard this. We have repeated this. But, do we live this?
To declare that we love God without loving our neighbor fully, completely, and in an unqualified way, means we are wiling to love God only on our terms, only in our own way, and not in the way that is revealed by Jesus Christ. To love our neighbor without loving or acknowledging God, greatly reduces the dignity of our neighbor, denies that the neighbor is an image of God our creator. It truly says that our neighbor has no real value. It does not respect the neighbor and thus is not a genuine love of the neighbor for what he or she is and can be. These teachings go hand in hand. Both must be known, believed and lived.
If there is a question of how one must love one’s neighbor, we can recall that Jesus responded to this question on one occasion by tell telling the moving parable of the Good Samaritan. Today, however, we heard very clear words from the Book of Exodus. These are comments made on what the commandments, the covenant with God, means in very practical terms. We are to treat all people, in every way, with honor, dignity, fairness, justice and respect. We are to do this in every dealing we have with one another.
Paul pointed out to the Thessalonians, as we also heard, that their value ad dignity as believers came from the manner in which they lived out their faith despite rejection and persecution. It is to be the same for us.
To achieve the peace and unity that we pray for us as Church, to achieve the peace and unity as people living in this vast and diverse world, we must, effectively and clearly, understand and live out the teaching of Jesus, stated so simply and directly. We must do this to the full extent of the meaning of those teachings. We must do this in all that they require, in all the selflessness they express. There are no short cuts. There are no qualifications if we are to be honest In our commitment of faith as Christians. Truly and genuinely loving God and neighbor is the manner in which we reflect – in peace and unity – what it is for us and for our world the will of our good and gracious God.