Second Sunday of Advent (a)

In today’s Gospel reading John the Baptist confronted people who thought they were entitled. The Sadducees and Pharisees and many of the people He spoke to thought they were entitled to the Kingdom of God simply because they were Jewish. Stop making presumptions, the Baptist warns them....and us.

As the shepherd of the parish, I hope that we will eventually overcome a certain business mentality, which at times manifests itself when we deal with each other and keeps us from living like a family. The parish is not an agency for religious services in which what is put into the collection plate gives someone the right to a certain amount of the sacraments, the celebrations, the times and the spaces. The parish is a flock, in which the shepherd and the sheep must journey together toward eternity in a relationship of mutual obligations of trust and love. We are all equal before God and He does not distinguish between those who have been here since the founding of the parish and those who joined us yesterday. For God we all have a place at His table at St Vincent de Paul, and we are all called to work for Him and only for Him and His glory. Here I bring up another important notion: what we do in the parish is for the glory of God. We must not seek, or even expect, the applause of anyone: when you give, let not our left hand know what your right hand is doing; so that you gift will remain a secret; and your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you.  

So, the message for the Second Sunday of Advent is very easy: prepare or, more precisely, don’t presume, instead prepare. We have been brought into the sacred through the Merciful Gift of God that is our baptism. When we refuse to live our faith, we are treating our baptism as a mere ritual act. Some of our protestant brothers and sister will speak about the necessity of confessing Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. But that also is insufficient if they do not live this belief. We are entitled to nothing other than the fruit of our Christian life.

George Frederick Handel understood this. Christmastime brings innumerable performances of Handel’s great Oratorio, The Messiah. Did you know that Handel never received a penny for this his greatest work? Whatever money the work made in his lifetime went to the London Foundling Hospital, a poor orphanage. It was not that Handel was a rich man at that time. In fact he was very poor and then he suffered a paralyzing stroke. Handel had been rich and famous. There was a day when he was the most sought after composer in Europe. But 25 years later, his operas lost their appeal. By age 52 he was deeply in debt. And then he had the stroke.

A few years later Handel was asked to write an oratorio based on meditations on the Life of Christ written by one his close friends. Handel felt inspired by God. He completed the work in 24 days. He refused any commission for the initial performances because he said that this was God’s work. He had received the gift of music from the Lord and was paying Him back by giving the gift of loving God through music to the Lord’s people. 

Handel did not presume. He prepared. Entitlement is the way of the selfish. Sacrifice is the way of the Christian. Prepare the way to the Lord, the Baptist enjoins us. Live in such a way that others will welcome the Lord into their lives. 

Stay awake, we heard last week. Prepare, we hear this week. Stay awake for the opportunities to serve the Lord. Prepare to find Him.

Our Lady’s longing for the Birth of the Savior is the pattern for us. We desperately need Jesus. He wants to be with us in our joys and sorrows. Today we commit ourselves to an Advent, in the spirit of Mary, filled with prayer, self-denial and service. ■

Y entonces uno se queda con la Iglesia, que me ofrece lo único que debe ofrecerme la Iglesia: el conocimiento de que ya estamos salvados –porque esa es la primera misión de la Iglesia, el anunciar la salvación gracias a Jesucristo- y el camino para alcanzar la alegría, pero sin exclusividades de buen pastor, a través de esa maravilla que es la confesión y los sacramentos. La Iglesia, sin partecitas.

laus deo virginique matris