Sunday, December 21, 2014

A Brief Reflection On Four Very Important ‘Houses’

"The Annunciation" by Fra Angelico.

(Fourth Sunday of Advent (B): This homily was given on December 21, 2014 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I. by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read 2 Samuel 7:1-8:16; Romans 16:25-27; Luke 1:26-38.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Fourth Sunday of Advent 2014]

I’m sure that many of you have seen the show “House Hunters” on the HGTV Network.  I sometimes watch it with my sister and brother-in-law when I’m in Barrington on my night off.  As homeowners, they really enjoy it.

The format of the program is pretty simple: A couple (hopefully heterosexual AND married!) is shown three houses by a realtor, each of which they have the opportunity to buy.  These previously-occupied homes are chosen for them because they have the features that the couple is looking for, and they’re priced within the price range that the couple can afford.

The drama of the program (if you can call it that) comes in trying to figure out which of the three homes the couple will finally decide to buy at the end of the show.  Now often the decision is very difficult for them, because none of the homes they get to see is perfect in every way.  Each falls short of the ideal; each, to some extent, is imperfect.  For example, in the first house the kitchen might be too small, in the second all the bathrooms might need remodeling, while in the third some walls might need to be torn down or repaired.

So part of the decision-making process involves figuring out how they’re going to deal with—and eventually fix—those imperfections.

I mention this today because our Scripture readings this morning present us with three different “houses”—not to buy, but to reflect on for our spiritual growth.  In the first reading King David expresses a desire to build a “house”—a temple—for God to dwell in and for the people of Israel to worship in.  God responds by saying to David, in effect, “Well, thank you very much, David, but building a temple for me will be your son’s job, not yours.”

Then God begins to talk to David about another house—another kind of house—namely, a dynasty: a dynasty that will last forever.  The Lord says, “And when your time comes and you rest with your ancestors, [David], I will raise up your heir after you, sprung from your loins, and I will make his kingdom firm.  I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me.  Your house and your kingdom shall endure forever before me; your throne shall stand firm forever.”

As Catholic Christians, we know that that promise was fulfilled with today’s gospel story—the Annunciation—and everything that followed afterward in the New Testament.  In other words, it was fulfilled with the coming of Jesus Christ, and especially with his resurrection—because in and through his resurrection Jesus reigns as King forever: the King of all creation!  Notice how St. Luke mentions the fact that Joseph was “of the house of David”.  He was a descendant of David; and, according to some of the early Fathers of the Church, so was Mary.

Which brings us to the third “house” that we find in these readings.  The first “house” was the temple in Jerusalem; the second “house” was the Davidic dynasty that culminated with the coming of Jesus; and the third “house” is none other than Mary, our Blessed Mother.  At the moment she said those well-known words to Gabriel—those words we heard a few moments ago—“Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.  Be it done unto me according to your word,” Mary became (physically speaking) the dwelling place—the “house,” if you will—that Jesus resided in for the first 9 months of his life on earth.

But, of course, our Lord always dwelt in Mary’s heart by faith and by love; and so, in that sense, she was always his “house.”

And she was a PERFECT house!  Unlike those homes you see on “House Hunters,” Mary’s house (that is to say, her life) was perfect.  It was without sin.

Which brings us, finally, to our “house.”  (And here I’m NOT talking about the building we happen to live in.)  This last one wasn’t mentioned specifically in our readings today, but it was alluded to in that second reading from Romans 16.  There St. Paul talks about the gospel being proclaimed so that people like you and me will come to “the obedience of faith.”

That’s a great expression!—“the obedience of faith.”  As most of us know, some Christians today (and even, sad to say, some Catholics), try to separate faith from obedience.  They’ll say things like, “I believe, so I don’t need to obey.”

That’s wrong.  According to St. Paul in this text, the attitude of every Christian should be, “Because I believe, I obey.  Because I have faith, I make the effort to live in obedience to Jesus and his gospel.”

But, of course, we don’t always obey, do we?

Which is why we, unlike Mary, need to get our imperfect “houses” cleaned every once in a while in the confessional!  Sometimes only a light cleaning might be needed; at other times a heavy, deep cleaning may be required.

Which leads to the obvious question: Did you get your “house” cleaned this Advent?  Hopefully you did.  If you didn’t, don’t worry—we’ll have confessions again next Saturday, 3:30 to 4:30pm.

Comparing our lives to houses (as I’ve done in this homily) can help us to understand many things.  It can help us to understand Mary’s holiness, and it can help us to understand our need for forgiveness.  It can also help us to understand something else which is very important.  It can help us to understand why God allows certain sufferings in our lives.  St. Thomas Aquinas would say that God allows evil (he doesn’t cause it, he allows it) for the sake of a greater good.

Ultimately that means he allows it so that we will grow in holiness and become more like Mary: a more fitting “house” for Jesus to dwell in here on this earth—and in eternity.

C.S. Lewis wrote something along these lines in his famous book, “Mere Christianity.”  I’ll leave you today with his words.  If you’re dealing with a difficult cross in your life right now, you will hopefully derive some encouragement from this. 

Lewis wrote, “Imagine yourself as a living house. [That should be pretty easy to do after hearing this homily!]  God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what he is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently he starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is he up to? The explanation is that he is building quite a different house from the one you thought of—throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but he is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.”