1st Sunday of Advent
December 3, 2017
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
8/9 days ago, on the Friday after Thanksgiving, millions of Americans
crowded the malls and stores all across the country,
or went online to Amazon and other sites
to be the first to take advantage of sales and specials,
and get that perfect gift at the perfect price.
All in the name of the so-called the beginning of the “Christmas Season.”
Of course, it wasn’t the Christmas Season—that begins on December 25th.
And it wasn’t even the beginning of the Advent Season—that begins today.
In any case, what does all this frenetic fixation on buying and selling
have to do with Christmas or Advent?
And yet it is an example of what will go on for many people
throughout Advent: a fixation on material things
all in the name of preparing for Christmas.
Now, don’t get me wrong: buying presents isn’t a sin.
In fact, it can be a very good part of Christmas—
they can be an important way of sharing God’s love.
But making presents and other things
the main focus of Advent and Christmas can become a sin.
And to a greater or lesser extent,
it’s a sin that tends to effect most of us every year, in one way or another.
So that the words of Isaiah in today’s 1st reading apply to us:
“we are sinful; all of us have become like unclean people.”
According to St. Augustine, sin is a
“turning away from the Creator [God]
and turning toward the creature,” the things created by God.
Whether that “creature” is a new 60” plasma flat screen television,
or the latest Xbox,
or even a human being we see as a mere thing, or object, to use,
sin always relates to loving the things God created,
more than we love God.
Advent is a time to turn away from sin, and re-turn toward loving God.
And this idea of “turning to God” is at the heart of today’s Gospel text,
where 4 times Jesus tells his disciples to “watch”.
Watch for God, watch for Jesus.
To keep our eyes searching for him,
and once we find him, keep our eyes fixed on him.
Unfortunately, the exact opposite is what usually happens:
these weeks before Christmas have become a time when it’s so easy
to allow our eyes to stray,
searching after and fixing on the material gifts of Christmas.
But to help counter being distracted by material gifts,
perhaps we can allow ourselves to be attracted
by the spiritual gifts that Christ has given us.
As St. Paul says in today’s 2nd reading:
“I give thanks ….for the grace of God bestowed on you in Christ Jesus,
…so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift.”
Think about how in the next few weeks you’ll bring out
so many Christmas decorations
and even the Christmas-y clothes
that you’ve received as gifts on past Christmases.
Like the Christmas tree ornaments your children made for you
when they were little,
or the special Santa Claus sweater Mom gave you
before she passed away,
or the diamond earrings your husband gave you
on your first Christmas together.
Good. Do that.
But why shouldn’t we also take out the even greater gifts
we’ve received through past Christmases?
–the graces brought to us through the birth of the Christ child
2000 years ago?
The sacramental grace made possible by that Christmas
and given to you in your baptism
and renewed every time you received Holy Communion,
and in each of the other sacraments.
The grace of hearing God’s word,
of being a member of His Body, the Church
and sharing in His life.
The particular graces He’s given you whenever you asked for His help
to be strong and righteous.
All made possible by the first Christmas, and so all gifts of Christmas past.
Bring out these gifts now also.
And allow them to help you to “watch” for the coming of Christ.
Think of the most precious material gifts you’ve received for past Christmases
—the gifts you really “loved” the most,
and either remember most vividly
and in one way or another—physically or in memory—
take out every year at this time.
But ask yourself:
is it the gift itself, or the person behind the gift
that makes the gift so special?
Ladies, those diamond earrings—is it diamonds,
or the love of your husband they represent that means more to you?
Dads, are those tree ornaments all that beautiful,
or is it your memory of your darling children who gave them to you?
Sons and daughters, young or old,
was that first bike you ever got so awesome,
or is it your memories of mom or dad giving it to
and teaching you how to ride
that means so much?
St. Paul tells us today:
“you were called to fellowship with …Jesus Christ our Lord.”
As with all gifts, this is the key to the spiritual gifts God has given us:
not the gift itself, as wonderful as it is,
but the person who gives the gift.
The Giver not the gift, the Creator not the creature.
So this season of Advent must be a season
of turning away from fixated on material things,
and turning toward Christ
through the things that bring us close to him—the spiritual gifts.
In Latin, the word for “turn toward” is “convertio”—or conversion.
And that’s what I’m challenging you to today: conversion.
This Advent convert to Jesus Christ:
take out all the spiritual gifts Christ has given you in the past,
and let them bring you closer to Christ
and deeper fellowship, or communion, with him.
For example, the spiritual gift of Holy Mass.
When you come to Mass take to heart the Gospel message today:
“Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come.”
It is true, we don’t have any idea when Jesus
will come again in his glorified body to judge the living and the dead.
But we do know the exact time he first came to earth in the flesh,
the year 1 at the first Christmas.
And we do know that he continues to come to us, in the flesh,
at every single Mass:
precisely at the moment of the miracle of the consecration
and at the moment of the intimacy of
receiving Holy Communion.
So today, be watchful and alert.
Watch for him to come: turn your eyes and minds and hearts to the Altar
as the Word made flesh descends as the priest says, “this is my body.”
And as you come to receive don’t be looking this way and that for who you know
or what they’re wearing—don’t even look at the priest:
these are all just creatures.
Rather let your hearts shout the words of the prophet Isaiah:
“Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down…”
And watch and turn your eyes and heart and mind–and body—
to your Creator as He comes down to you in Communion.
And do this at every Mass during Advent.
And don’t let that happen only once a week.
At St. Raymond’s we have Mass twice every weekday
—3 times on Wednesday and on the first and third Fridays!
So, come. And watch, and turn toward the Lord.
Another important spiritual gift aiding our conversion this Advent is Confession.
To come to Christ through his representative, the priest.
To admit that we are sinful: to admit our avarice and greed and lust and hate.
And turn our hearts away from inordinate love of creatures,
and toward loving the Creator.
And then to receive more spiritual gifts:
the graces of forgiveness and to overcome sin.
And there are countless other spiritual gifts:
coming to worship our Lord in adoration on Wednesdays and Fridays.
Or coming to Lessons and Carols next Sunday,
or to my talk on St. Joseph the Thursday after that.
Or any one of the many spiritual events scheduled in the parish
—you can find a full schedule on the insert in today’s bulletin.
And taking time for personal prayer
—the Rosary, or reading scripture or other good spiritual books.
I can’t even begin to list them all: all the other spiritual gifts like this
packed away just waiting for you to take them out and use them.
And these are just sort of the external spiritual gifts:
we also know about those graces Jesus places in our hearts
to keep us turned toward Him and following him in everyday life,
The grace, the strength, courage, wisdom and love
to obey his commandments,
and to be alert for opportunities to serve our neighbor,
with the love of Jesus himself.
He has given you all these—they are inside of you waiting for you use them.
In the coming weeks of Advent let’s not be distracted by or fixated with
sinful attraction to the material things of the world.
Now, again: there’s nothing bad about buying and giving gifts, or receiving gifts.
In fact, it is a season of appreciating gifts.
But there is something wrong when we make those focus of our lives,
and especially in Advent.
The gifts we should primarily appreciate are the spiritual gifts God gives to us.
And more importantly, it’s a time to allow those spiritual gifts
to help us to turn away from the love of things,
and turn us toward the person who gives us everything:
As we continue with this Holy Mass,
let us pray that this Advent will be a time of true and profound conversion
for each of us.
And that that conversion will begin right now:
that our eyes and hearts may be open to recognize Him coming to us
as we turn toward the Lord descending upon this altar
and entering into us in Communion,
And once fixed upon our Lord in this miraculous gift
may we never again turn our eyes or hearts away from him again.
Come: “Be watchful! Be alert!”