Sunday, December 04, 2016

John the Baptist’s Annual Advent Call to Repentance

(Second Sunday of Advent (A): This homily was given on December 4, 2016 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Matthew 3: 1-12.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Second Sunday of Advent 2016]

  • Can you imagine how they felt?
  • Can you imagine the thoughts that were running through their minds?
  • Can you imagine the things they were tempted to do to John the Baptist?

I’m talking about the Pharisees and Sadducees who came to be baptized by John in the Jordan River.  These were dignified men, respected men, revered men—the religious leaders of the Jewish people.

And then one day this scruffy-looking guy dressed in weird clothes comes out of the desert and has the audacity to call them a “brood of vipers” and to threaten them with God’s judgment—basically telling them that if they didn’t change their ways they were going to hell!

  • Can I imagine how these Pharisees and Sadducees felt?  How about livid—enraged—infuriated—irate—and embarrassed?!
  • Can I imagine the thoughts that were running through their minds?  Yes—but I can’t say those words from this pulpit!
  • Can I imagine the things they were tempted to do to John the Baptist?  Of course.  They’re the things you see done in horror films nowadays (none of which is very pretty).

The problem with the Pharisees and Sadducees, of course, was that they weren’t sincerely repentant.  They were sinners like everybody else who was there that day, but weren’t prepared to admit it.  John the Baptist recognized that fact, and confronted them in this very forceful manner—not to embarrass them, but rather to motivate them: to motivate them to examine their consciences, repent of their sins—and receive forgiveness.

But it was impossible for these men to receive forgiveness that day when they first arrived on the scene, because they didn’t think they had done anything wrong.  And John the Baptist knew that.  Yes, God will forgive anything; yes, God will forgive everything—but not without our cooperation!  He loves us too much to violate our freedom in that way.

Did some of the Pharisees and Sadducees respond to the words of John by getting beyond their initial feelings of anger and then sincerely repenting of their sins?

I hope so.  I pray so.

But, in all honesty, it would have been difficult for them to do that, given the fact that they were very proud people, and proud people don’t like to admit that they need to change—anything.

I thought of all this the other day, after I read an online article by Bill Donohue of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights.  The article was about “Bad Santa 2” and three other “Christmas movies” that have come out of Hollywood this year—none of which is what you would call “wholesome entertainment”.

Donohue begins the article by saying this:
The corruption of American culture is evident in many ways, but few markers are more telling than the way Hollywood entertains us at Christmastime. It was 70 years ago when “It’s a Wonderful Life” was released. NBC describes it as “a holiday classic and remains the movie people associate with Christmas more than any other. Frank Capra’s definitive film is a tearjerker that proves that, even in our darkest hours, the human spirit can and will rise triumphant.” Today, we are being treated to obscene lyrics, raw sex, misogyny, and violence. Not one of the four Christmas-themed films released this season is worthy of being described as a family movie. There are no guardian angels directing the lead characters to consider how the world would be without them; no triumph of self-sacrifice; no statement against greed; no childhood sweetheart to marry; no inspiration of any sort. Just filth.
He then gets into some of the gory details—which I will spare you!  Suffice it to say that they would need to be censored for a church audience.

But what was most upsetting were the comments of two men associated with these films: producer Bob Weinstein and actor Billy Bob Thornton.  Here we have two men who are not only unrepentant like the Pharisees and Sadducees were; these two guys are actually PROUD of their sins!  Here’s what Bill Donohue wrote:
Bob Weinstein recently commented on why he accepted the script for the original “Bad Santa.” He did so after Universal Studios decided not to pick it up. “I asked a Universal executive,” Weinstein said, “Why’d you guys pass on it?” The executive replied, “It was the most foul, disgusting, misogynistic, anti-Christmas, anti-children thing we could imagine.” To which Weinstein said, “That’s exactly why I bought it.” Billy Bob Thornton was attracted to doing “Bad Santa 2” precisely because the original was so vulgar.  [He said], “I think part of it was that there hadn’t been a movie that profane and unapologetic about itself. I think it’s the alternative to the real syrupy Christmas movies.”

Yeah, Billy Bob, God forbid that we should have wholesome, uplifting, “syrupy” modern Christmas movies!  What a tragedy that would be!

Unfortunately, we can’t change modern Pharisees like Bob Weinstein and Billy Bob Thornton (how I wish we could!).

But the good news is we can change ourselves.

And the Lord invites us to do that every Advent.  He invites us through John the Baptist.  As many of you know, there is a three year cycle of readings that we use for Sunday Masses in the Catholic Church.  But it doesn’t matter which year we’re in—year A (which is the one we’re in now), year B or year C—the gospel reading on the Second Sunday of Advent is always the same.  It’s always the story of John the Baptist and his call to repentance.

John came 2,000 years ago to prepare people to meet their Messiah and Savior by helping them to clear out the sin from their lives.  John comes to us through the Scriptures in 2016 to help us to deepen our relationship with our Messiah and Savior by calling us to do the same thing—by calling us to repent of our sins.

The best way to do that as Catholics, of course, is in and through the sacrament of Reconciliation—also known as “Confession.”

When was the last time you went?