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Homily for the First Sunday of Advent

In today’s Gospel reading from Luke, we read this one line, “Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from … the anxieties of daily life.” In my men’s weekly Bible study, we close with intentions. During this pray for “the addicted, the afflicted, the angry and the anxious.”  We have found that all of us are usually in one of those categories. Many of us often claim several.

Worry. Why does it have such a hold on us? Is there a deeper spiritual reality that is in play here? Padre Pio used to say, “Pray, Hope, and Don’t Worry.” Sure. Easy for a Franciscan mystic to say. However, in Matthew’s Gospel; and in Luke’s Gospel as well, even Jesus comments on the uselessness of worry. “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?”

How can we stop worrying? The bad news is, you can’t. It’s an emotional and spiritual muscle that you exercise over time. It’s not a switch. It’s a habit. The good news is that you can break a habit by substituting a virtue. The bad news is …. it takes time.

Do you have time? Do you have enough Advent?

A number of synonyms for Advent are arrival, appearance, emergence. I like that last one. Advent doesn’t “happen.” Advent doesn’t “appear.” It emerges. It takes time for the effects of the liturgical season to unfold.

Carlo Carretto was a prominent Catholic activist in Italy after the close of World War II. At the age of 44, he had a mystical religious experience. He heard voice that said: ‘Leave everything, come with me into the desert. I don’t want your action any longer, I want your prayer, your love.” Carlos answered that call. He left for North Africa. He joined the Little Brothers of Jesus, a religious order founded on the example of Charles de Foucauld.  He spent 10 years living alone as a hermit in the Sahara Desert. He began to write about his spiritual experiences and later published a number of books. One book was entitled, Letters from the Desert. Father Ron Rolheiser muses that Carlo had a message for his busy friends in Italy. Carretto likewise has a message for those of us who live busy lives in the world today.

What is God trying to say to us in our busy lives? Be patient! Learn to wait. Wait for others. Wait for love. Wait for happiness. Wait for patience. Wait for peace from anxiety. Wait for God. Learn to wait! That’s not something we do easily and many of our problems flow from that. We often don’t wait properly for things.

A few years ago I attended a youth conference at the Franciscan University of Steubenville. One speaker addressed the oft-heard complaint of young people: “Church is Boring!” He said,

“Of course it’s boring. It’s supposed to be boring! Do any of you involved in music or sports or art or any activity get to play on the first day? Of course not. But each one of you does the BORING things like sketching dozens of times a day or doing wind sprints or suicide drills or shooting one foul shot after another. None of that is exciting. None of that is entertaining. ALL of that is boring. But you do it anyway Why? Because you want to get in the game. That’s exciting but you don’t get into the game unless you practice the fundamentals – and fundamentals are boring. It’s the same with spiritual fundamentals. God isn’t Lada Gaga. Mass isn’t entertainment. You have to wait! You have to invest time and get used to the boredom before God unfolds Himself and emerges in your life.

Yesterday we read a passage from the Book of Revelation. This was the last Gospel reading of the liturgical year:

John said: An angel showed me the river of life-giving water, sparkling like crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the street. On either side of the river grew the tree of life that produces fruit twelve times a year, once each month.

Notice, you don’t get a basket of fruit, you get one piece of fruit – one each month, it takes time before a full harvest is realized.

I close with a reflection/prayer:

You came into our world with all its sorrows.

Keep us watchful to find your presence now in the midst of our struggles.

Tell us again that your love will triumph.

Alert our hearts.

Make us aware of all the places in our world where you are,

And come, Lord Jesus, to all the spots in our lives where you are not yet.

Audio version of the homily is here:

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