Sunday, November 27, 2016

Promises, Instructions and Warnings

Promises, Instructions and Warnings
Homily for November 27, 2016    First Sunday of Advent - A
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi

Happy New Year!  For us Catholics, today, the First Sunday of Advent, is the beginning of a New Liturgical Year.  But it would be a little strange to run around and wish people a “Happy New Liturgical Year”, so I’m sticking with just “Happy New Year”.  Try it – it might make people think you’re crazy but it will also give you an opportunity to talk about the Real Meaning of Christmas.

And despite what you are seeing on TV and in the stores, this isn’t the beginning of the Christmas season, but of the season of Advent.  The word “Advent” comes from the Latin 'Adventus,' which means 'coming', and it is a preparatory season – a season of looking forward and waiting in anticipation for something great to happen.  And as Catholics we use this period of Advent to prepare for two distinctly different events – the annual celebration of the birth of Jesus the historical figure, and, more importantly, for the time when Jesus the Christ will come again.

And all three of today’s readings help us to begin our preparations for this second event, the return of Christ: the first is a promise; then a series of instructions; and finally - a warning.

First, the promise.  Isaiah talks about the future Kingdom of God that is to come, and he gives us a vision of hope.  He describes the coming Kingdom as one of worldly peace; that there will be a day when people “from all nations” will come and seek the Kingdom.  There will be no more wars, nor a need for them.  The day of our salvation is coming. 

But we are not there yet.  And so, St. Paul gives us instructions in his Letter to the Romans on how we should be preparing ourselves for that day of salvation.  His instructions sound almost the opposite of some of our Christmas preparations, doesn’t it?  How many times have we heard about Christmas office parties which get out of hand?  Did you know that there is more alcohol consumed for Christmas than any other time of the year except for New Year’s Eve?  As for rivalry and jealousy, all we have to do is look to how people respond to Black Friday sales to see just how bad people can act. 

And while that sense that the world will end tomorrow has diminished over the last two thousand years, our own need for a sense of urgency in our lives has not diminished, for we do not know the time and the place of our own departure and, sooner than later, we will be facing God, at least individually.

Which brings us to today’s Gospel.  It seems to be a bit of a downer to begin a season marked with preparations for Christmas with such dire predictions.  In his warning to His disciples, Jesus gives a harsh, apocalyptic view of the future – two men are working in the field: one is taken: one is left behind.  Two women grinding in the mill: one taken; one left behind.  The book series, “Left Behind” by Jenkens and LaHaye, was based on a literal interpretation of this passage – all of the faithful have been taken away by Christ, leaving the rest of humanity to face the upcoming apocalyptic battle between good and evil.

And yet, although we normally think of it as referring to some sort of cataclysmic event, the word Apocalypse comes from a Greek word which means literally "unveiling," or a revelation of something unknown.  The second coming of Christ isn’t a time of depression; it is a time of joy for those who are ready.  What if this passage means that the bad guys are taken away, leaving the rest of us to enjoy a new world with Jesus, free from tribulation?  After all, Jesus has told us that He is coming back TO us, that the world will be renewed.  Wherever we are in life, there is a better future in store for us.  We wait in anticipation for His second coming to us.

Unfortunately, for many people the days leading up to Christmas ARE depressing.  There are those who will be facing the holidays for the first time without a loved one who may have died or is gone; there are those who see all of the celebrations and feel the pressures of not having enough to celebrate with them; there are those who may be experiencing family problems and may be estranged from those they should be loving.  They cannot see that the focus of this season is not about parties and presents, but about the gift that God already gave us - the gift of Jesus and the promise of a better future in His Kingdom, where we will be reunited with loved ones and experience the joy of being in the presence of God.

So let’s not get lost in doom and gloom.  Advent isn’t a season of worry and despair; it is a season of hope and anticipation.  I read somewhere, from a Catholic source no less, that since the Christmas season doesn’t begin until December 25th, that we shouldn’t be singing Christmas carols or turning on Christmas lights or even sending out Christmas cards before that day.   I’ve never understood that.  Think about the time just before a baby is born.  What do you do?  You clean and decorate the baby’s nursery; you hold baby showers and prepare gifts for the newborn; and if you’re GOOD friends of the mother-to-be, you might even prepare food for the family, knowing that once the child is born these will be the things which the family will need for the new addition to the family.

And so it is with us.  Advent is a season of preparation, of anticipation.  Let us take these next four weeks to prepare for the annual celebration of Jesus’ birthday, allowing the Spirit of Christmas enter into our lives and sharing with each other the joys we have received because Jesus is in our lives.  Sing songs; share food and fellowship.  But don’t let the frenetic activities of preparing for celebrating a historical event overshadow the true meaning of Christmas.  Let us also prepare ourselves for His second coming into our lives.

Happy New Year.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Of Kings and Men

Of Kings and Men
Homily for November 20, 2016    Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe - C
by Dcn. Bob Bonomi

This weekend we celebrate the end of our Liturgical Year, with the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe.  We commonly call this “Christ the King Sunday”, although I’ve recently met people who thought that it meant that they should attend Mass at Christ the King Church off of Northwest Highway this weekend. 

Why do we celebrate this feast, especially at the end of our liturgical year? It reminds us that Jesus is more than a teacher, He is Our King.  The Universe was created by and belongs to Him.  Next week we begin a new cycle of teachings, beginning with celebrating His birth and preparing for his Second Coming.  And today, we are reminded that He will come as our Lord and King.

This feast is a relatively new addition to our liturgical calendar, Church-speaking, since it was only added in 1925.  In his encyclical establishing this feast day, Pope Pius XI (the eleventh) said:  "If to Christ our Lord is given all power in heaven and on earth; if all (people), purchased by His precious blood, are by a new right subjected to His dominion; (and) if this power embraces all (people), it must be clear that not one of our faculties is exempt from His empire. He must reign in our minds, … . He must reign in our wills,  … . He must reign in our hearts, … and (we must) love God above all things, and cleave to Him alone. He must reign in our bodies and in our members, which should serve as instruments for the interior sanctification of our souls, or to use the words of the Apostle Paul, as instruments of justice unto God."  We are Instruments of justice.

In a sense, then, this feast is really less about Christ as King as it is a reminder that WE are members of His Kingdom, and that we, too, have responsibilities to that Kingdom.  When we are baptized, during our anointing with chrism we are told that we have been anointed as “priests, prophets and kings”. So, as Catholics, through our baptisms we are called not only to follow Christ as our King, but that WE are called to be kings as well.

Bishop Robert Barron summed our role as “kings” with this:

Finally, what does it mean for the ordinary Catholic to be a king? In the theological sense, a king is someone who orders the charisms within a community so as to direct that community toward God. In this way, he is like the general of an army or the conductor of an orchestra: he coordinates the efforts and talents of a conglomeration of people in order to help them achieve a common purpose. … How does one grow in the capacity to exercise kingly leadership? … On the Catholic reading, religious people—the baptized—come forth boldly and publicly and are more than willing to govern, to be kings, out of religious conviction. If you are looking for examples of what I’m describing here, look no further than William Lloyd Garrison, Fulton Sheen, Martin Luther King, or Dorothy Day. Baptized kings who refuse to reign are like a hilltop city covered in clouds.

So, we too are called to be Kings, and Christ taught us how to rule. Our Church continues to teach us how to rule.  Pope Francis is a living example on how to rule.  And if there’s a mission statement for our kingship, it is the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy.

We’ve studied and prayed and reflected on the Works of Mercy during the Jubilee of Mercy, which along with our Liturgical Year closes this weekend.  The Holy Door of Mercy at St. Peter’s Basilica, which was opened on Dec. 8th last year, on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, will be closed and sealed with brick and mortar this weekend signaling the end of this extraordinary event, and the doors will remain closed until another Jubilee event is declared.

But although Pope Francis will be closing the Door of Mercy at St. Peter’s, our call – our Mission – to show mercy continues.  We, as subjects in Christ’s Kingdom, must now continue living and practicing the Works of Mercy, not just occasionally or when convenient, but as a life-style. 

Which brings us to today’s Gospel.  First, a bit of trivia.  Who was the first saint to enter heaven?  I’d say it was St. Dismas – the Good Thief from today’s Gospel.  Although scriptures doesn’t reveal the names of the two thieves that were crucified with Jesus, other writings identifies the Good Thief with the name of Dismas, and Jesus tells him that “today you will be with me in paradise.”  Can you imagine what all of the other saintly people waiting their turn to enter Heaven must have thought when Dismas strolled through the gates with Jesus? “Hey, no cutting in line?!”

It’s a trick question:  they were HAPPY!  Remember, there is great rejoicing in heaven over one repentant sinner.

Dismas recognized Jesus as King.  Not an earthly king but the King of Heaven.  He didn’t expect Jesus to come down from the cross; he didn’t expect Jesus to save his earthly life.  Despite the pain and suffering he experienced, Dismas recognized Jesus for who He was, and believed with the hope that comes with faith.  And Dismas’ plea to be remembered by Jesus when Jesus assumed His reign was a plea for mercy.  His plea is our plea. And Jesus will respond to us just as He did to Dismas – with God’s infinite mercy.

It is our mission, then, it to carry that mercy to all those we meet.

Would you recognize Jesus today? It would be tough, if your only contact with Him is as a spectator at a Sunday Mass.  It would be like meeting someone in passing at the airport or on a commuter train.  If you saw them enough times you might get to a point that you recognized a face, but unless you sat with them and talked with them you’d never know them.

So it is with Jesus.  We encounter Him through His Word, His Liturgy, and His people.  And shortly, you will hear about a way to encounter Jesus through an upcoming ACTS retreat.  But it is through prayer that we talk with Him.  We must pray, and we must listen.

Finally, we’re reminded from the Second Vatican Council’s document, “Lumen Gentium” or “Light of the People”, that “as His disciples, WE are named as His kings so that we too ‘might be constituted in royal freedom, and that by true penance and a holy life we might conquer the reign of sin in ourselves’”.

We are called to be Kings.  We are also God’s Stewards of the many blessings He has given to us.  Let us prepare ourselves and act like it.