Editors’ note: Bishop Douglas J. Lucia celebrated Mass at St. Margaret’s Church in Mattydale Nov. 28, during which he blessed the Immaculata Award medallions that will be presented to recipients in their parishes. The prepared text of the homily the bishop preached on that occasion appears here.
It’s very good to be with you this afternoon as we come here to bless a special award in our diocese. An award that speaks of service. An award that actually speaks of being alert to the Lord as he comes into the lives of our parish communities. And so on this particular Sunday, even though we are in the midst of the coronavirus and everything still is up in the air and cases seem to be increasing, we know that again, through the service of these folks who will receive the award, God is with us. That our God is a God of accompaniment. A God who comes to walk with us. And that is the whole theme of the Advent season.
I would like to begin our reflection on God’s word today with a story. A story of a monk who asked, “Father Abbot, what has God’s wisdom taught you? Did you become divine?” “Not at all.” “Did you become a saint?” “No, as you can clearly see.” “What, then, O Abbot?” “I became awake!”… “I became awake!”
“Jesus said to his disciples: ‘Be watchful! Be alert!” or as other translations will say, “Stay awake.” These words greet us as we begin a new year in the life of the Church, but I believe they have even added meaning in this particular period of our lives where we are called to have heightened awareness due to the rampant spread of COVID-19. I have to be honest with you, that heightened awareness very much became a reality to me this morning [Sunday], just as I was about ready to go down into the Cathedral to preach the second Mass at 9:45. My cell phone rang and I heard these words, “This is the Onondaga County Health Department,” and I am like, “Oh no!” Then it went on to tell me where all the tests will be given tomorrow for the public schools. I was like, “PHEW!”
As Scripture scholars note, the words “Be watchful! Be alert!” are also the last words spoken by Jesus in the Gospel of Mark before the vortex of violence begins to suck Jesus into the passion and death that he will conquer by his resurrection. So, brothers and sisters, even as we begin Advent, we are reminded of the paschal mystery of Christ, the hub of the liturgical year.
Today’s Gospel is part of the 13th chapter of Mark’s Gospel, which is also referred to as his “little apocalypse.” Apocalypse is sometimes called the literature of the oppressed, as it usually arises from and is addressed to people in a time of uncertainty or suffering, present or imminent. Such was the situation of the Markan church, persecuted and unsure what the next day would bring in terms of fidelity to or betrayal of their faith.
Without being overly dramatic, I think especially these days you and I, sisters and brothers, can relate to such uncertainty. We wonder if tomorrow, one of us might test positive for COVID-19 even though we don’t have any symptoms and have been trying to do all the right things. In the back of our minds, there is also the knowledge that for some the coronavirus appears to be a mere cold, while for others it becomes a life and death struggle to keep breathing.
This, too, mirrors the uncertainty that is always the season the Church finds itself in as we await the return of Jesus, the great Traveler, at the Second Coming. We are uncertain about the day or the hour of this event, because it is only known to the Father, but we have the certainty of faith that there is an end for the world: a faith that Christ will come again to pour out upon the cosmos the extravagant love of God that will transform it into a new heaven and a new earth.
Now believe it or not, for me this last thought is very consoling when in our present day and in our own lives you and I find our whole worlds collapsing around us. It might be personal, or in our own families, or as a society. Especially over the course of the past few months, when instead of things getting better in our nation and in our world, masks and quarantines and social distancing, along with economic hardship and hospitalizations and rising death tolls abound all around us. Yet, into this fray, into this poverty, Christ our Savior comes — Jesus Christ who is the same yesterday, today, and forever — the faithful One who is our redeemer forever! The word “redeemer,” which is found in the first lesson of the first Sunday of Advent, signifies in common jargon “one who goes to bat for another.” Think of that for a minute — a Redeemer, one who goes to bat for another, for us. Think of what that signifies in the darkest of days, especially when you and I face sin and death!
On this Lord’s Day in our churches and homes we light the first candle of the Advent wreath, which is known as the “Prophecy Candle” and symbolizes hope. A small flame is struck on an evergreen circle, a simple ritual and a symbol of the first flicker of hope in the One who is the Light of the World, who will lead you and me through every darkness to eternal life with God who is without beginning or end.
That is why as a diocesan Church, we have chosen to focus on the theme “Waiting in joyful hope.” Such a posture invites you and me to heed the evangelist’s call to “watch” and to use this holy season of Advent to ever more attune our eyes to Jesus’ presence in the world and to his coming in glory. And when you and I think of the title of the award that is given, “the Immaculata,” it symbolizes Mary’s own words, “my soul doth magnify the Lord.” And, certainly as we give these awards to our fellow parishioners, they signify how the glory of the Lord, how the Lord himself, is seen through their own actions, through their own lives. It’s a reminder of what we celebrate in this Advent season, when we don’t just call to mind the first coming of Christ in that stable in Bethlehem, or when we look forward to his second coming. But as spiritual writers have written throughout the ages, it also speaks of the third coming. A Christ that comes to meet us every day, in our lives, wherever we are on the road of life.
St. Catherine of Siena once wrote, “All the way to heaven is heaven if Christ is the Way.” And again, think of what this can mean for you and me, even in the dark times of our lives. But especially in this Advent season, it invites you and me to also consider, “How do I show Christ to those around me? How do I radiate Christ? How do I point Christ out to those around me on a daily basis?” And so, this is why we are invited to watch. To watch so that we might see Christ ourselves and in turn bring others to him.
The persistent call of the Advent season is “Maranatha”: “Come, Lord Jesus!”
And so we pray:
Loving God of power and might,
you alone are the source of our peace.
We wait in hope for the coming of
Keep us watchful and ready as we await
the glorious coming of your Son,
Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.