First Sunday of Advent, Year B

Sunday, December 3, 2017
Fr. Jon
Homily transcription: 

     Through the years I have heard many smart people talk about what a great author Flannery O'Connor is.  She is often described as the greatest American Catholic novelist of the last century.  So a couple of years ago, I read one of her novels.  And I did not understand it.  After that, I mentioned this to Archbishop Jackels, who has a doctorate in spirituality, and he said he does not understand her writings either.  So I felt better.

     One true story I like about Flannery O'Connor goes like this:  "One of Flannery O'Connor's friends wrote to her complaining about a novel by a mutual friend.  She said that one of the women in the book flies to religion after her husband rejects her; the other after he dies involves herself in religious works.  It seems that it makes faith look like a haven for losers.  And, she added, 'Ii am always a bit troubled when people regard faith and religion as chiefly a compensation.'  O'Connor's response: 'Perhaps she is right.  On the other hand, some kind of loss is usually necessary to turn the mind toward faith. If you're satisfied with what you've got, you're hardly going to look for anything better.'"

     Today we begin the season of Advent, which is about longing for and needing a Savior.  In the Gospel, Jesus points out the danger of being asleep, which is to be so comfortable in life that we have little felt need for a Savior.  I think this is one of the reasons why our society has become so secular.  Many of us are so comfortable that we have little felt need for a Savior.

     One of the many things I like about being a priest is that I am often in contact with people who have an acute sense of the need for a Savior.  I am around the sick who long to be well, the lonely who long to be loved, those weighed down by sin who long to be forgiven, the hungry who long to be fed, and the addicted who long for freedom.  I am around those who feel like they are not really living, and those who simply long to die.  It does me a lot of good to be around people who have an acute sense of a need for a Savior.

     That is what we heard in the first reading from Isaiah.  It is written toward the end of the Babylonian exile, which was a devastating experience for God's people.  I invite us to read it again sometime this week, and to not only read it but feel it.  Feel the deep desire for God to break into our world and make things right.  Isaiah says:  "Why do you let us wander, O Lord, from your ways.  Return for the sake of your servants.  Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down.  For you have hidden your face from us."

     When I watch the news, or even look into my own heart, I feel like that sometimes.  Isaiah expresses an acute sense of a longing for a Savior, for God to come into our lives and make things right.  It is here that we begin a new church year, and the season of Advent.

     You see, something is broken in all of us.  In each person in the church today, there is something that is not as it should be.  And worse than that, there is nothing we can do about it.  We are too weak to change it, solve it, or fix it.

     If we are honest, each of us has a part of our lives that is unsatisfying, or painful or even ugly.  The common way we have learned to deal with our pain is to distract ourselves with endless entertainment, or numb it with alcohol or drugs, or drown it out with non-stop activities.  We will do almost anything to keep from dealing with the pain of our lives, and to avoid feeling those feelings.

     Advent is a time to do something different.  We sit in silence and darkness, which scares us.  We bring all of what is in our hearts to the Lord.  And we await a Savior.  We cannot fix the brokenness of our lives, but the Lord can.  And he will if given a chance.

     Flannery O'Connor said, "Some kind of loss is usually necessary to turn the mind toward faith.  If you're satisfied with what you've got, you're hardly going to look for anything better."  Christmas does not make much sense without Advent, because it is hardly good news for a Savior to be born for us if we don't realize we need one.