Sunday, November 27, 2011

Homily - 1st Sunday in Advent

[Audio of this homily will be available here(click) by Tuesday afternoon.]

Is 63: 16b-17, 19b; 64: 2-7; 1 Cor 1:3-9; Mk 13: 33-37
When I was in the seminary, I had the opportunity to spend some time observing the chaplaincy work at Cardinal Glennon Children’s hospital. One day, I found myself in the PicU- the prenatal intensive care unit. Before the day was over, my life would change.

My first thought about priesthood was that of celebrating the sacraments- effectively and untiringly providing for the sacramental needs of the church: more than one Mass each day; weddings, funerals, baptisms, anointings in hospitals and such. And then I was to spend the remainder of my time efficiently administering the temporal needs of the parish: raise the money and pay the bills; keep the lights on and 
keep every seat in the classroom and church filled.

And then, even though I wasn’t looking at the time, He came to me.

I was in the PicU, sitting with a family whose new born was nearly 5 weeks premature and not expected to make it. I don’t know if the family was Catholic or not, it doesn’t matter. The nurse who was working with this little guy was an imposing woman. She was tall and fit and had the veins in her hands that I always thought meant that she worked hard. She wore no watch or rings; there was something about her hands.

She had to maneuver the baby to do some kind of procedure. I think she was checking vital signs or something. But the way in which she handled this very delicate child was so tender, so gentle that it contrasted very sharply against the institutional feel of the machines and the instruments you find in hospitals.

After she was done with the baby, she came into the glassed waiting room where the chaplain and I were sitting with the family, and we all stood. We had watched everything she did with the baby. She passed on some information to the family (I no longer remember specifically what she said), and the mother began crying, I couldn’t take my eyes off of the nurse. She stood and with those hands pulled the mother, who was a petite black women to her, and stood there embracing her for the what seemed like a very long time. I was behind the mother, and all I could see where the nurses hands. The veins were bulging now- I didn’t thing she would ever let go of her.

It was at that moment that the Father planted in my heart the second thought I had about the priesthood, and it’s the one that now supplants the first: Fr Craig, you will use your hands to celebrate the sacraments and no doubt, you will do it effectively and efficiently. More importantly though, you will use your hands to hold and heal and support and encourage and challenge and teach as Jesus, the Divine Physician, did. That will be your priesthood… I will take care of the rest. It was then that I knew I would being called to be a priest.

All that from watching her hands.

The command to watch is one that we need to heed everyday- for the Lord comes to us in ways big and small, and in varied circumstances. Make no mistake, He IS coming again, and when he does come, we will most certainly know it.

The command to watch then requires an openness to see God in the many experiences and circumstances of our life: the day to day routine, the beauty of creation, moments of profound blessings and of a felt presence of the Divine; but also in things like tragedy; illness; and even our own sinfulness. In every way, in some kind of way, God is present in all of that!

It’s one thing to watch, it’s another to respond. That’s the key to Advent I think, and the whole Christian life and journey of faith and prayer: watch, and then respond.

But the key to either one is always the response I think. Remember that Faith is ultimately a response to God the Father who has invited us to a relationship with Him, through His Son, Jesus Christ. But that is a response that has to be repeated with some frequency, once a week, at least.  That’s the obvious one- coming here to celebrate the Eucharist.

After the initial response of Faith, it then becomes the challenge to watch for the moments when God reminds us of our initial response. Some of these moments can be earth-shatteringly obvious like a tragedy or a windfall of blessings; other times, what we are watching and waiting for is not so obvious. My own personal experience has taught me that some times, they are barely noticeable and are only 
found after reflecting back.

But, no doubt, there are opportunities and experiences and situations that seem insignificant in the grand scheme of things, but are in fact moments when the Father is, once again, reminding us of our relationship with Him. It’s for these moments, that the Jesus is beckoning us today, Watch. And I would add, Respond.

Advent is a time to work on our watching skills. Some questions for our prayer this week: how good am I at watching to see where the Lord is present and working in my life? Am I quick to see Him in the smallest and most ordinary of things and people? Am I quick to watch others, to identify their needs? Am I watching out for the good of those I live with and Love? 

Advent is also a time to work on our responding skills. After we’ve watched, are we ready to respond? When we notice the working of the Lord, or the promptings of the Holy Spirit in my heart, do we respond with prayer and gratitude? When we see the needs of others, do I respond with generosity and compassion, even if there’s nothing I can do to help? When we see those we love struggling and maybe even wandering, do we respond with an open heart, and a shepherd’s care?

Watching and responding- may we do both well this Advent, and everyday.


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