Sunday, December 09, 2012


(Second Sunday of Advent (C): This homily was given on December 12, 2012 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Philippians 1: 4-6, 8-11; Luke 3: 1-6.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Second Sunday of Advent 2012]

You could call it, “Fr. Ray’s Advent Equation.”

More about that in a minute.

Advent is supposed to be about preparation.  It’s supposed to be about preparing to celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, on Christmas Day, and it’s supposed to be about preparing ourselves to meet the Lord face to face at the end of the world or at the end of our earthly lives (whichever comes first!).

But for many people Advent is almost exclusively about celebration—the kind of celebration that should be reserved, primarily, for Christmas and for the Christmas season (which lasts from December 25th until mid-January).

Now I’m not saying that we shouldn’t go to any Christmas parties or do any celebrating whatsoever before the 25th of December, but I am saying that our primary focus during these 4 weeks of Advent should be on preparing ourselves spiritually for the Lord’s coming.

Everything else should be secondary—and that includes partying and baking and (dare I say it?) shopping!

In this regard, Bishop Sheen used to say that there are two philosophies of life.  The first is the Christian one.  Sheen expressed that philosophy in the following way: “The fast, and then the feast.”  Applying that insight to this time of the year: for Christians like us Advent should be a time to “fast” (in other words, to discipline ourselves and prepare ourselves spiritually), so that we can truly “feast” and rejoice on Christmas Day—and throughout the entire Christmas season!

But, unfortunately, many professed Christians approach these 4 weeks of the year with what Bishop Sheen would call, “The worldly philosophy of life.”  And he had a great way of explaining that one.  He said the Christian philosophy is “The fast, then the feast” whereas the worldly philosophy of life is, “The feast—and then the headache”!

Sheen gives us a great insight there—which applies to more than just those people who get hung over after Christmas parties!  The insight he gives us is that the quality of our preparation directly affects the quality of our celebration!  Thus when there’s little or no preparation at all, the celebration ultimately leaves us empty.

And that’s the way it is for many people at this time of year, is it not?  Let’s face it, the world is into Christmas “feasting” already!  In fact, nowadays our secular world is in full “Christmas mode” from Halloween until December 25!  And many Christians get swept away in the frenzy!  It’s go-go-go, and shop-shop-shop, and party-party-party for almost two months; and then, on December 25, it’s all over.  “Finito,” as the Italians would say!  And those who make the mistake of getting swept away in the hoopla are no different, no better, no closer to God than they were on October 30th!

What they are, of course, is exhausted—totally exhausted—and they need at least two weeks to recover from it all.

The feast, and then the headache!

The sad reality is that, because these men and women completely bypass their preparation during the season of Advent, their celebration of Christmas is ultimately unfulfilling.

Now this is where my “Advent equation” (which I mentioned at the beginning of my homily) comes into the picture and becomes important. 

Let me explain.

As I see it, 3 things are necessary to properly prepare for a truly fulfilling and meaningful celebration of Christmas.

The first is contemplation.  If we want the coming of Christ to mean something to us, we need to spend some time pondering what it actually meant for God to become man in that event we call the Incarnation.  What did it mean for the world?  What does it mean for me and for my life right now? 

One great way to do that is to come to daily Mass during Advent, because most of the readings during these 4 weeks are built around this theme: we hear many of the Old Testament prophecies about the coming of the Messiah (especially from the book of the prophet Isaiah), and we hear about the events surrounding our Lord’s birth.

If you can’t get to daily Mass you can still access the readings on-line or in a publication like the Magnificat, and you can read them during your personal prayer time each day at home.

Everyone here has a regular, daily, personal prayer time, right?

Well, everyone should!

Notice what St. Paul says in today’s second reading from Philippians 1.  He says, “This is my prayer: that your love may increase ever more and more in knowledge and every kind of perception, to discern what is of value, so that you may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ.”

Of course, none of that will happen without contemplation (which, obviously, is just another word for prayer).

Next comes reconciliation.  Proper advent preparation requires contemplation, but reconciliation is also necessary: reconciliation with God and reconciliation with others.  That means, for example, that if we’re holding a grudge or harboring unforgiveness toward another person in our life, we should not expect to experience great joy at Christmas (or at any other time of the year for that matter!).

As I said earlier, our Advent preparation (or lack thereof) directly influences the quality of our Christmas celebration.  And that preparation must include reconciliation if we want our celebration to be all that it can be.

This is why John the Baptist is always the main character in the gospel reading for the second Sunday of Advent!  John came for “preparation”—he came to get people ready to meet Jesus, their Messiah.  And his message of preparation was simple and clear: Repent!  Repent!  Be reconciled to God and to one another!

On that note, did I mention that Fr. Giudice and I will both be hearing confessions for the next two Saturdays from 3:30-4:30p.m.?

John the Baptist would want me to remind you of that, for reasons that should be obvious!

Which brings us to the final element of proper Advent preparation: Donation.  As most of us know, our materialistic and hedonistic world teaches us—and especially our young people—that Christmas is all about 3 people: Me, Myself, and I.

Christmas, in other words, is all about getting more stuff and satisfying our own personal wants and desires.

That, of course, is the exact opposite of the true message of Christmas, which is “giving”: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.”

We are supposed to give our gifts—our donations—of time and talent and treasure to our brothers and sisters here on earth during this holy season (and throughout the year!), in imitation of God: our loving and awesome God who gave us his greatest gift in and through his divine Son, Jesus Christ, who was born of the Virgin Mary on Christmas Day.

It’s always inspiring and uplifting to me to see people responding to others in their need.  So many of you have done that here, again, this year, with our Giving Tree project.

May God bless you for your generosity, and may you personally experience the truth of those famous words of Jesus: “There is more joy in giving than in receiving.” 

So there you have it—my Advent Equation: Preparation equals Contemplation plus Reconciliation plus Donation.

Preparation (for celebrating the feast of our Lord’s birth with true Christmas joy) comes through contemplating the meaning of his birth, reconciling with God and others, and giving of ourselves and of our blessings and resources to help our brothers and sisters in need.

My prayer today is that we will all LIVE this equation fully during this season of Advent, and find true and lasting joy this coming Christmas.