TEXT: 3rd Sunday of Advent, December 11, 2016

3rd Sunday of Advent

December 11, 2016

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

 

This time of year life gets pretty hectic

–on top of the regular year-end busy-ness at work and school,

we have the ultimate craziness of what the secular world calls

“the Holiday” season:

everyone running around shopping or decorating,

or planning trips, or visiting family and friends.

There’s a lot going on, but even in the midst of the craziness,

there is a certain air of joy,

because most of what’s going on goes on

in an atmosphere of great expectation.

But we have to ask ourselves–what is it that we’re expecting?

 

In our Gospel reading today,

when Jesus speaks to the crowd about St. John the Baptist, he asks:

“What did you go out to the desert to see?

A reed swayed by the wind?

Then what did you go out to see?

Someone dressed in fine clothing?

…why did you go out? To see a prophet?”

 

Sometimes we go out expecting prophets,

and sometimes we go out expecting just to be entertained.

For example, about 19 years ago, I went to Rome with one of my priest friends,

to visit another priest friend who was studying there.

I’d been to Rome a few times already, and I always enjoyed it,

but this time we had several special things planned

that we’d never done before.

Most importantly, months before we had arranged to have permission

to celebrate Mass in the crypt of St. Peter’s Basilica,

on the very tomb of St. Peter himself.

Everything went as planned until the night before we were supposed

to say Mass on St. Peter’s tomb,

when we got a call telling us a Cardinal wanted to say Mass at the tomb,

and since Cardinals always have precedence over mere priests,

the arrangements months before were overridden.

 

You can imagine how disappointed we were,

and how it put a damper on the rest of the trip.

Until…the evening before we were supposed to leave… we got a surprise call

—apparently, my Roman friend had made a request he hadn’t told us about because he thought there was no way it would be granted.

But the phone call from the Vatican told us the impossible had happened.

And at 7am the next morning we found ourselves among a handful of priests

in the private chapel in the Papal apartments

concelebrating Mass with Pope John Paul II.

Amazing.

We walked in before Mass and there was the great man

kneeling before the tabernacle in absolute fervent prayer,

just 10 feet from where I would sit.

And then we concelebrated the Mass with him, so reverently.

And then to meet him and speak to him for a few moments after Mass.

It was truly one of the greatest moments of my life

–and it was completely unexpected.

 

I had come to Rome with one very high expectation, only to have it dashed,

but then found out God had something even greater than I had ever hoped

in store.

 

Jesus asks:

“What did you go out to the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind?

…Someone dressed in fine clothing?”

Pope John Paul was no reed swaying in the wind

–he didn’t move with the changing winds of what’s popular,

but consistently proclaimed the truth about Jesus Christ.

And he certainly wasn’t outwardly attractive

–by the time I met him his once strong body was now severely bent

and his once rich and bold voice now slurred

by the ravages of Parkinson’s Disease.

Even so, his mere presence radiated the faith, hope and love of Jesus,

like no other person I have ever seen.

We go looking for one thing,

and God gives us something so much more amazing.

 

Something similar, though much more spectacular,

happened to a poor indigenous Mexican named Juan Diego,

in the year 1531.

One day he was on his way to catechism class,

taking a short cut over a small hill outside of Mexico City called Tepeyac

when suddenly he came upon a magnificently beautiful young woman,

whose face and clothes shone like the sun.

And then an even more unexpected thing happened,

as the young woman said to him:

“I am the ever-virgin Holy Mary, Mother of the True God.”

A few days later, on December 12,

Juan Diego went to the Bishop of Mexico City,

with his cape, his “tilma”, filled with roses the Blessed Mother had given him

in that cold December as proof that she had appeared to him.

But when Bishop Zumarraga, came out

expecting to see a humble peasant with a bunch of roses,

instead, as the cape unfolded and the roses fell out,

he saw a picture of Mary appear miraculously on the tilma.

An image that would help lead to

the almost overnight conversion of millions of the indigenous Mexicans,

the first of 100s of millions more

as the New World converted to faith in Christ Jesus.

 

“What did you go out to the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind?

…Someone dressed in fine clothing?”

Today millions of people still flock to Tepeyac to see the miraculous image

of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Some go out expecting a kind of prophetic/spiritual encounter,

some go out not knowing what to expect,

but many go out expecting simply to see

an interesting part of Mexican folklore—to be entertained.

 

It wasn’t all that different, 2000 years ago,

when John the Baptist was all the rage,

and Jesus asked: “…why did you go out? To see a prophet?”

Most of the people that he was speaking to would have answered: “yes!”

But back then, lots of people claimed to be prophets:

most were usually false prophets,

but even these could be very entertaining.

So many people probably went out to see this prophet out of curiosity,

or even to be entertained, or amused.

Others probably went just to show their faces, to be able to tell their friends:

“oh, did you see the Baptizer…well, I was baptized by him.”

But others also went out with sincere hearts

hoping to hear some wisdom from a holy man,

hoping that he was truly a prophet.

So you can imagine what a shock it was for any one who went out

with even the slightest openness to the truth

as they encountered no ordinary entertainer,

or even an ordinary prophet,

but the prophet of whom Christ himself would say:

“[he is] more than a prophet.

…among those born of women there has been none greater

than John the Baptist.”

How sad for those poor people who came out just to be entertained,

but how wonderful for these people

who went out not knowing what to expect,

and found the greatest prophet

proclaiming the arrival of the Messiah.

 

For many of us Advent and Christmas

is a time when we go out expecting to find all the wrong things,

or maybe with our expectations a lot lower than they could be.

Sometimes we approach it looking for the glitter and fun,

for the gifts and the presents.

Sometimes we go a little deeper,

looking for the warmth and love of families and friends.

But what if we went out with hearts open

to encounter something even more satisfying

than the passing pleasures of seasons,

and more awesome than even the most wonderful human love.

What if we went out to be entertained, and instead encountered a prophet?

What if we went out to see a prophet

and instead found the greatest prophet announcing news of great joy?

What if we went out to see the great prophet of joy,

and found instead the perfect and boundless joy of God himself,

wrapped in swaddling clothes and in the skin of a new-born baby,

–and resting in the arms of his beautiful young mother!

 

Advent is a time to re-evaluate our expectations of joy.

To ask ourselves,

do I approach this season, and really the rest of the year as well,

expecting to find joy primarily in external and passing pleasures?

Or do I find my joy in the expectation of the day

which we read of in Isaiah today, when

“the Lord …will return and [we will] enter Zion singing,

crowned with everlasting joy;

[when we] will meet with joy and gladness,

[and] sorrow and mourning will flee.”

 

Sometimes, we don’t go out knowing that we’re going to see a prophet

–we haven’t a clue what gift God has in mind for us.

When I went to Rome 19 years ago

I found the excitement of visiting the Eternal City,

but I also found the unexpected joy of seeing the Gospel shine

through the face of St. John Paul II.

Juan Diego went out expecting to learn his catechism,

and Bishop Zumarraga went out expecting to greet a peasant

—but instead, both found the unexpected joy of finding the Mother of God,

sent by her Son, to bring Him to the New World,

and the New World to Him.

 

If we live our lives with low expectations of ourselves and of God’s generosity,

we may never know the wonderful gifts that God expects to give us.

And if we settle for the temporary joy we encounter

in the external trappings of Advent and Christmas

we will miss the life changing and eternal joy

that comes from meeting Christ himself.

 

Today–“Gaudete Sunday”, “rejoice” Sunday

–the voices of St. John the Baptist, St. John Paul II,

St. Juan Diego, Our Lady of Guadalupe,

and the whole Church,

join the voice of God himself in calling us to rejoice in the joy

that Jesus Christ alone can give us.

The joy that completely fulfills and infinitely exceeds

all of our most wonderful expectations.

 

“What did you go out to the desert to see?

A reed swayed by the wind?

Then what did you go out to see?

Someone dressed in fine clothing?

…why did you go out?”

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