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12/15/19 Third Sunday of Advent - Fr. Reggie

Things are not going well for John the Baptist in today’s gospel. We’re in the middle of Advent, joy is everywhere, and what are the first lines of today’s gospel? “From prison, John the Baptist heard of the works of Christ.” John the Baptist had given everything to God. He had left his home and his family. He lived in total poverty – we can get used to hearing that that he wore clothes made of camel’s hair and he ate locusts and wild honey, but imagine what a camel’s hair shirt would feel like… It’s not exactly an Armani suit. And even if you eat them with honey, locusts are still bugs. John the Baptist had preached the Kingdom of God; he had given everything to prepare the way for Jesus.

And what’s his apparent reward? He’s in prison. It seems that God is hidden from him. He hears about the miracles that Jesus is doing, and yet he remains in prison.

He sends his friends to ask the most important question; everything hinges on this question. He asks Jesus: “Who are you?” “Are you the meaning of my life? Are you the mercy of God made visible? I have given everything – even my freedom – for God. Are you his face among us?”

And the answer that Jesus gives to John’s question can seem a bit cryptic. He doesn’t say, “Obviously… Of course I’m the one who is to come. All your difficulties and sufferings are over!” Jesus is not a toothpaste advertisement - he doesn’t say “buy my product and all your problems will disappear.” Instead he says something rather strange. He says: “Tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed…”

Jesus is telling John, “You don’t have to understand everything. You’re not God. All I ask is that you listen and look at what I’ve done and continue to do in your life and in the lives of others.”

We all have our John the Baptist moments, when nothing seems clear, when Christmas may seem far away. And in those moments, Jesus is telling us, “Look, and listen.”   

This promise that God is at work in the world and in our lives, even when it doesn't look like it, is symbolized by the color of the vestments we wear today. We have set aside the dark purple and midnight blue of Advent, which symbolizes the darkness of night, the spiritual night that the world was stuck in before Christ's coming. And we have put on rose-colored vestments - the color of the horizon at the very start of a sunrise. The sun doesn't come up all of a sudden. It is a gradual, almost imperceptible brightening of the sky. It's gradual, but it's real, and it's irreversible.

Christ's influence on history is the same

He began the redemption two thousand years ago - that was the first blush of sunrise in the fallen, sin-darkened world.

And ever since then his grace and salvation, his light and goodness, have been spreading throughout the world. Even today, the Church is still growing and expanding in every corner of the world. In spite of setbackshuman failingspersecution - the sun continues to rise.

Catholicism is not just a religion with many believers around the world. True, it has beliefs and traditions, as other religions do. But it is much more than that. It is a real, organic, united community, with a structured backbone of authority in the bishops and the pope. That structure was established by Christ, has remained intact for two thousand years, and is guaranteed by God to last until the end of time - until the sun has fully risen.

Jesus uses the same approach in each one of our individual lives. He doesn't make us saints right away - usually. He doesn't make us completely happy right away. He comes into our life as a companion and a guide, as a friend who also happens to be Infinitely wise. And he invites us to follow him along the path of life.

And this is why it takes so long for us to become spiritually mature.

Jesus doesn't treat us like robots, or computers - instantaneously making us perfect, but doing all the work himself.

No, he wants us to be his friends. He wants us to actually contribute to our own spiritual growth. He is like a good coach: he doesn't just want us to win the race; he wants us to become winners. This is why St Teresa of Avila, one of the great Doctors of the Church and religious reformer, was a wimpypettymediocre nun for twenty years. She had to do spiritual training and rehabilitation for two decades before she was able to reach her full potential.

Just as the baby Jesus took thirty years and the help of the Blessed Virgin Mary to grow up and fulfill his mission in life, so God's grace takes time and the help of our own efforts to grow in us and fill our lives with Christ's light.

In every Christian soul, the sun begins to rise at baptism, but unlike in the world of nature, it will only rise fully if we let it, if we choose to follow Christ and live in friendship with him.

When we look, and when we listen, we see the great things God has done in us and through us. It brings to mind the words of Psalm 89: “Forever I will sing the mercies of the Lord.”

And the Mass is the greatest of all mercies. In the Mass when we look and when we listen, we see Jesus on the Cross, out of love for us. We see him present in the Eucharist. In the Mass, Jesus makes everything his own and takes it to the Father. In the Mass, if we allow it, Jesus makes each one of us more and more his own.

John the Baptist asked, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another.” Here, in the sacrifice of the Mass, we look and we listen for the response to that question; and we receive the greatest answer of all. We receive Jesus Christ, in his body and in his blood, in his soul and in his divinity. And we experience a presence and a friendship which will last for all eternity. 



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