Homily – 1st Sunday of Advent (Fr. Smith)

After Roe v. Wade was overturned this year pro-life groups had to determine their next moves. As we saw, some decided to push for very restrictive statewide laws, which failed everywhere they were presented. The Catholic Church, as most clearly seen in the statements by statewide Bishop’s conferences hailed the end of Roe, but proposed a path for the future which included pre- and post-natal care for the child and basic protections for the mother. This reflected basic Catholic Social Teaching which is often called the Church’s best-kept secret. Catholic Social Teaching is not difficult to understand, but very hard to live out and so is rarely applied. The Dobbs decision, however, demanded that our leaders either state these teachings and their consequences or by their silence deny them. As St. John Paul 2 said we must stand for “the incomparable and inviolable worth of every human life” or fall ignominiously. (Evangelium Vitae: paragraph 2) Simply put, concern for all from womb to tomb. This means that Catholics must be prepared to expand and deepen our commitment to others. We need to be truly pro-life and not just pro-birth.

We had another example of a forced choice last week with the nightclub shooting in Colorado Springs. The Bishop of Colorado Springs, James Gola said after the killings: “The shooter appeared to target members of the LGBTQ community. Anytime specific members of the population are targeted for violence, we should all be concerned. As Christians and Catholics, we believe in the intrinsic dignity and value of all human life. We commit ourselves to protecting and defending that human life.” Many other Catholic organizations issued similar statements.

This is Christianity 101 but when 49 people were killed in the Pulse nightclub only 6 years ago the silence of the Church was deafening. Condolences were sent by Church leaders but without mention that the club catered to a gay clientele. (* see note below) Yet our church teaches that you can only love real, concrete, flesh and blood individuals, however messy and not abstractions, however splendid. It is only by recognizing the real lives of people that we can affirm their incomparable and inviolable worth and accompany them on their life’s journey. We must also note that Bishop Gola’s statement was not enthusiastically endorsed by all the Bishops of Colorado, and he should be acknowledged for his leadership.

Today’s second reading is from Paul’s letter to the Romans. Previously he told them that they should “Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. (Ro 13:8).”  We hear today to “do this because you know the time.” The word he uses for time is Kairos which means a significant moment, a time to choose a basic direction. The world can be a dark place and can lull us to sleep. Moral and spiritual sleep can be as enticing as physical sleep and perhaps we often find ourselves spiritually groggy.

We emerge from this sleep in a Kairos time by making basic decisions. It offers a kind of light that can only emerge from darkness because it presumes, we have known the darkness and turned away from it. This darkness is often a form of sloth. It is easy to tell a woman not to have an abortion, but difficult and expensive to provide daycare so she can work if she has a child. It costs nothing to issue predictable and anodyne statements on mental health and violence but requires a commitment to combat hate speech against our gay brothers and sisters and all who are the victims of prejudice.

St. Matthew understands this well. We usually live not Kairos time but mundane time: “eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage.” (Mt 24:38) As Christians we believe that Jesus will return to establish his kingdom. We do not know when this will be, and Matthew most especially urges us not to look for signs of his return. He simply will. Rather we must constantly prepare for him by looking for opportunities to love.

Love is effectively willing the good of another. It is an act of the will and not dependent on feelings. The more difficult it is to will, that good the more decisive the decision. We can see that with families. Perhaps you did not have an easy Thanksgiving. There are often difficult family members. Your endearing aunt may be easy to love, your prickly uncle may be very hard. Spend more time with him and will his good.

There are certain occasions when you know family members will be difficult. An aged parent may need extensive care and many resentments may emerge in the process. Love may not come naturally but must be chosen.

Pope Francis often reminds us that those on the margins of society are often the way of reform and expansion. We have seen this in the Parish with our long-term commitment to the food insecure but also to our emergency response to the needs of asylum seekers. What about our own personal lives? Do we even see people who are different from ourselves or are we asleep.

More than anything else loving wakes us up and prepares us to meet the Lord. As has been said so beautifully: ”In the twilight of life, God will not judge us on our earthly possession and human success, but rather on how much we have loved.” (St John of the Cross)

This is what we celebrate in Advent. The prayers and readings from today to Dec 16 emphasize the return of the Lord. Only then (17th on) do we give our attention to the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. We have been given each other to love and in that loving to love God and awaken to his presence. Every person we will not embrace is a lost opportunity and a tragedy. The final prayer of today’s Mass says: “even now, as we walk amid passing things you teach us by them to love the things of heaven and hold fast to what endures.” Let us hold fast to each other.

* This missed opportunity inspired Fr. James Martin to start “Outreach” ministries. Pope Francis has twice received Fr. Martin in private audiences to support and encourage him. A peculiar fact about Catholic Social Teaching is that it has traditionally come from the top down with help from Parish priests. Older Catholics might remember “Young Catholic Workers” and “Young Catholic Students.”