Second Sunday of Advent
December 5, 2021
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
“Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.”
This is a call to prepare for the coming of Our Lord Jesus,
that is so appropriate during this season of Advent
as we prepare to celebrate His first coming,
and to be ready for His second coming.
But before we can or understand how to prepare for that,
there is one thing we need to consider carefully.
Advent is a time examine our faith.
What to we believe that makes us want to prepare for Christ?
Specifically what do we believe and how much do we believe,
how deep is our faith in Jesus.
Let’s begin by considering what faith is.
In his letter to the Hebrews, St. Paul tells us:
“faith is the assurance of things hoped for,
the conviction of things not seen.
So it is an assurance of something—we have a sense that we are sure about it,
we have a conviction, we’re convinced it is there and true,
even though we don’t see it.
And by “see it” we mean we don’t just mean seeing it with our eyes,
but we don’t see it with our mind, we don’t understand it completely.
Now, all of us have what we call is called the “natural virtue” of “natural faith,”
meaning we have the ability and even the tendency
to be convinced and sure of things we fully don’t understand.
So, I have faith, or I believe, that when I use my smart phone it will work,
and enable me to find all sorts of information on the internet,
or play games or even make a phone call.
But I have very very little understanding of how the phone works,
or how the internet works or how that tiny computer can be so powerful
—I don’t even understand how electricity works.
But I have assurance and confidence it will work.
And we tend to have faith in science.
I have a small understanding of how microorganisms’ work, and so how viruses work, but I don’t really understand it well, or to any depth.
But we wind up believing in what scientists tell us,
even when we don’t understand.
We have faith in science.
And of course, we see how that faith can be shaken
when different scientists disagree on something:
and we don’t know who’s right,
we’re not scientists, so who do we “believe?”
That’s natural faith.
But there’s also supernatural faith.
This faith is one of the 3 theological virtues, Faith, Hope and Love or Charity.
We call them “theological”
first because they come from God—or “Theos” in Greek–
and second, because they are aimed at bringing us to God.
They are not natural but supernatural in that
we receive them not by any effort on our part,
but only by the direct gift of God, or grace,
infused into our souls at baptism, and renewed in the other sacraments.
What we can do is accept these gifts and cooperate with them,
allowing our natural gifts to be lifted up and transformed
to participation in divine nature/life.
So, the supernatural virtue of faith enlightens our minds,
our faculties of intellect, or thinking, and will, or choosing.
So that God enlightens our minds to accept some truth not known
by natural reason alone, but by God’s revelation.
And all this means Faith is not only gift from God,
but it then requires a free response on our part to the gift,
which theologians sometimes called the “act of faith.”
During Advent we should consider the status of our own faith:
both our openness to the grace and our response:
do we believe, how deeply and fully do we believe
and how completely do we let that belief show in the way we live?
Advent is a great time to do this
particularly because it is a season when we are particularly
instructed by our two great role models of faith:
the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Joseph.
Think about Mary, who St. John Paul II called the “Model of our Faith.”
From her childhood she had a deep faith
in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob,
and all the promises He made in the Old Testament,
including His promises relating to the Messiah.
And then when the angel came to her to ask her
to be the Mother of the Messiah,
her total faith in God and in what He reveals to her
is shown as she humbly says, yes:
“I am the handmaid of the Lord,
let it be done to me according to your word.”
So that when she goes to visit Elizabeth,
she is greeted by her cousin’s proclamation:
“Blessed are you who believed
that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.”
And because of her faith, her assent of mind and will to God’s word,
her assurance and conviction that God spoke the truth,
even though she could not completely understand it,
because of her faith, and her full cooperation with the grace of God,
she conceived by the power of the holy Spirit.
She assented and she cooperated.
Then think of the faith of St. Joseph
St. Matthew tells us,
“before they came together she was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit;
and her husband Joseph, being a just man
and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.”
Some think this shows some lack of faith on St. Joseph’s part,
but the common teaching Church is that
Joseph recognized the miracle of Jesus’s conception
and Mary’s sinless virginity,
and saw himself as unworthy to be part of this amazing plan of God,
so he sought to simply get out of God’s way.
While this shows Joseph’s humility, at the root of this is Joseph’s faith:
his natural faith in Mary’s goodness and holiness,
and his supernatural faith in God’s promises in the old testament.
And we see this faith in his actions:
St. Matthew goes on to tell us
that an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream
and told him not to divorce Mary
because he, Joseph, was supposed to be an earthly Father to the Savior. And then it says,
” ….When Joseph woke from sleep,
he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him.”
And then later, after Jesus’ birth,
the angel appeared to him again in a dream
and told him to go to Egypt to flee Herod.
And then it says, “And he rose and took the child and his mother by night,
and departed to Egypt.”
Again, we see the response of faith:
God’s gift of faith enlightening will and intellect,
and making action possible.
So that grace builds on nature, supernatural faith enlightens natural faith,
and Joseph believes what is revealed to him in a dream,
even though he does not understand it completely.
Advent is a time of faith, following the example of Mary and Joseph.
A time to renew our faith.
Do we really deeply believe in Jesus?
Or like the world, do we see Jesus sort of like Santa Claus… and all that implies:
a beautiful story that delights children
Or do we see Christmas as being about things other than our faith in Jesus,
things like family, friends, or celebrating fun traditions?
Maybe sort of related to Jesus, but not with Jesus as the heart.
And if He is the at heart, is it only as a sweet little baby
who brings warm and fuzzy feelings,
OR is it as God the Son,
the Omnipotent and Glorious Creator of the Universe,
who fulfills His promise made in the beginning
and takes on human nature in the flesh
to save the world from sin by dying in the flesh on the cross?
Do we approach Christmas with Faith in Jesus as God the Son, and Our Savior,
as just a really sweet tradition of the holiday?
Or somewhere in between?
Clearly all of us lack the faith we should have:
none of us has the faith of Mary or Joseph.
Rather we’re like the man who asked Jesus to heal his child, saying,
“Lord I believe; help my unbelief.”
And so in Advent we examine our faith,
and we don’t get discouraged by our weakness or failure,
but are inspired to strive to increase it.
And to do that, we pray, as prayer opens us up to grace,
and to recognizing Christ’s existence, power and presence
as we speak and listen to Him.
And we do good spiritual reading,
reading the Bible and great Catholic spiritual writers,
like Augustine, or Francis de Sales, or Theresa of Avila, or John Paul II.
And we repent: sin blocks grace
and is absolutely contrary to the response of faith.
And we receive the sacraments:
Penance removes obstacles and renews access to the flow of grace
and the Eucharist renews and strengthens all grace,
and fills us with every grace and heavenly blessing.
The very nature of Avent as a time to
“Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths”
requires that we carefully examine our faith:
true faith in the tremendous God who loves us,
assent of mind and will to what He has revealed to us,
and so then living out that faith in the way we love and live.
Let us now turn in prayer to the Lord who comes to us in what is called
“the Mystery of Faith,” the Holy Eucharist,
and so draw nearer and nearer to Him… in faith.