Sunday, December 07, 2008

An Advent Gift from Jesus Christ

(Second Sunday of Advent (B): This homily was given on December 7, 2008 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I. by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read Isaiah 40: 1-5, 9-11; 2 Peter 3: 8-14; Mark 1: 1-8.)
[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Second Sunday of Advent 2008]

Have I got a deal for you!

Almost everyone this time of year is looking for a bargain—a good deal—a pre-Christmas sale that might help them keep more of their hard-earned cash.

Two-for-one sales are great (if you can find them!); three-for-one deals are even better—especially this year, in the midst of the current economic crisis.

Well, today I offer you a gift that will cost you absolutely, positively nothing, financially speaking. You can’t get any better than that! If you receive it, your wallet or your purse will not lighten up at all—not by one single ounce—although you might feel a little bit “lighter” on the inside.

Some of your fellow parishioners have already made this ‘deal’—and I dare say everyone who has is glad that they did. Now it does cost something—and admittedly for some the price is too high—but everyone can afford it, even those on a fixed income, even those who live below the poverty level.

To receive this gift, the price you’ll need to pay is completely internal, and it starts with two things: humility and honesty. If you’re not willing to be humble, and if you’re not willing to face your true self with an honest heart, the gift is way beyond your reach—even if you’re the richest person on earth!

But humility and honesty, although necessary, are not sufficient. You’ll also need a healthy dose of contrition, as well as a commitment to try to be better.

By now I suppose that most of you have figured out what this gift is: Forgiveness! Reconciliation with God!

A few weeks ago—just a couple of days before Advent began—a parishioner called me at the rectory. He said to me, “Fr. Ray, I’d like to come in and make a good confession sometime soon. I haven’t received the sacrament in several years, and I decided that this was going to be my Advent gift to myself.”

I knew what he meant, of course; but what he was actually asking for was an Advent gift from Jesus Christ: a gift made possible by the sacrifice of our Lord on the Cross. So a few days later he came to see me with all the necessary prerequisites: humility, honesty, contrition, and a commitment to try to be better (what we usually call “a firm purpose of amendment”), and the Lord happily gave him the gift he desired.

Free of any monetary charge!

Our Scripture readings today are like 3 commercials for this most important gift from Jesus Christ. (That’s one way to look at them, anyway.) Our first reading is a messianic prophecy from Isaiah, chapter 40—a passage that we believe was fulfilled in the ministry of John the Baptist. John, as we all know, preached a very clear and a very strong message of repentance, in trying to prepare people for the coming of their Messiah.

Obviously St. Mark also believed that John fulfilled this prophecy from the Old Testament, since he quoted a key line from Isaiah 40 in today’s gospel reading. There he calls John the “voice of one crying out in the desert: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.’”

Repentance is what makes the Lord’s path into a person’s heart ‘straight’. That’s why it’s so important; that’s why it’s essential!

And today’s second reading is a message of hope for everyone who has delayed their repentance up until now, for one reason or another. On that note, if you’re one of those Catholics who has put off making a good Confession out of laziness, or fear—or simply because you haven’t wanted to give up your favorite sins—listen again to these words of St. Peter: “[God] is patient with you, not wishing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.”

Of course, Peter goes on in the very next line of the text to talk about the Day of the Lord—the Day of Judgment—as if to say, “God is extremely patient, yes; but his patience will not go on forever. Eventually, it will be exhausted for each of us.”

One poet put it well when he wrote:

Time is God’s patience
When God runs out of patience
We’ve run out of time.

As long as we have life in our body, the Lord’s patience—thankfully—remains. But it’s never a good idea to delay repentance, since no one of us knows when our life will come to an end.

I’ve included an examination of conscience in the bulletin today. I highly encourage you to look it over, take an honest inventory of your life, and make a good confession sometime within the next two weeks. To make it easy for you, both Fr. Giudice and I will be hearing confessions in this church for two hours next Saturday and the Saturday after (from 2:30-4:30pm).

If you do this (and I hope you do), I can promise you two things: Number 1, neither Fr. Giudice nor I will yell at you—even if you’ve been away from the sacrament of Reconciliation for many years. And number 2, this will be the best—and the most important—‘deal’ you make this December. In exchange for humility, honesty, contrition, and a firm purpose of amendment, you will receive the most valuable gift in the universe—the gift you MUST receive to get into the kingdom of heaven.

And it won’t cost you a single penny.