Throughout all of human history we have struggled to meet God. We may meet people in our lives who think that God, religion, Christianity, perhaps faith in general is for the weak-minded and simple among us. There are many valid reasons that people feel that way. Upon first glance, there are many “religious” people who have rigid beliefs of “it’s us versus them”. At second and third glance; many terrible and destructive things have happened with “religious people” placing the Stamp of God upon hateful and destructive actions. If I seem sympathetic – I’m not; if I seem understanding – I am! I was one of “those people” who for so many years had a dismissive, hateful, negative attitude towards religious people for what I believed religion was all about. And given where I live, it was directly towards the only religion I had much of an awareness of at the time – Christianity. I could never imagine myself a Christian from all the “poor examples” I had met in my life.
But I will be the first to admit that I had only a vague understanding of what it meant to be a Christian then. I did not want or feel I needed to understand anything more than I did to dismiss religious people altogether. My ignorance was bliss for me then too, so I understand why it seems that this attitude and mentality doesn’t seem to move much. I was so arrogant and proud that I could not be moved on the subject. Then I met some real Christians; men and women who meekly and humbly tried their best and when I got to know them, I came to see they were ordinary folk trying to be the best people they could be. I realized my preconceived ideas needed to be challenged and my understanding needed to be deepened. While dedicated Christian Disciples showed me what a Christian really was and what we are meant to be, I am also aware that God gave me the grace of an open heart to see it in the first place.
It was through Jesus and His Disciples (these good Christians I came to know), that I really came to meet God through His Son, Jesus. I didn’t realize I was hungry for the food that Jesus offered, but when I came to realize – Jesus gave me what I needed. Jesus filled me in my need.
Throughout human history, so many of us haven’t been aware of the hunger and need we have and our hearts remained closed to what Jesus has to offer. I speak about this from experience! I was for a very long time one of those people. Jesus reached me…He gave Himself for me…He brought me in love…to Him.
I pray daily now, for those who were like me; who may see me and criticize me for being one of these weak-minded hypocrites. I have my moments still where I am these things; the difference now is that each criticism that is made of me for this is an occasion I am reminded I need to draw closer once again to the Lord who loves me!
Friends, let us consider how Jesus fills us in our own need. Let us consider how we come to the Lord for loving, healing, growth, guidance. Let us consider what we are given when we do.
Honesty and humility are two of the most important ingredients in our growing in our faith. In today’s Gospel, the centurion (who would not have been a likely follower of Jesus) asks for the Lord’s help. When Jesus suggests He will come and heal his servant; the centurion responds with the words we remember in perpetuity: “Lord, I am not worthy to have You come under my roof; but only speak the word, and my servant will be healed!” A form of this statement has become our humble (and hopefully) honest confession before receiving Holy Communion – a recognition that we too are not worthy to have the Lord come to us as He does at Mass and as we receive Him whole and entire, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity in the Eucharist.
We need to try to be honest with ourselves; admit where and when and how we go wrong, but also where and when and how we are weak. Honesty also means that we recognize that despite our sins and weaknesses, we are deeply loved by God and we cannot afford to get mired in any way in sin. I have had many conversations with people who misunderstand Catholic Christians as “too focused on sin” and that may be because there are some of us who come across that way – all we talk about is what is wrong with the world and people. That cannot be an honest assessment of the world we live in, because there are many people (I mean them every day) who are trying hard and trying their very best. This is NOT Sodom & Gomorrah, where we were hard-pressed to find even a few good people; good people are everywhere! If we have a hard time seeing that, we need to be honest about that.
We need to be humble as well; our faith, being Catholic Christians, is not about being part of an exclusive club. It’s about recognizing a loving God who has given us all that we need to follow Him and then we need to spend our lives “humbly walking with the Lord”. We humble ourselves when we confess our sins in the Sacrament of Reconciliation; we humble ourselves when we do our very best and don’t expect anything for it in return; we humble ourselves when we consider God and others always and everywhere before ourselves AND we humble ourselves when we profess the words, “Lord, I am not worthy that You should come under my roof, but only say the words and I shall be healed.”
As Christians, we celebrate the New Year twice! Of course, there’s the new year that we celebrate on January 1st, but TODAY, the First Sunday of Advent marks a new year for us as well. If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably given up on making New Year’s Resolutions because so often we stop making them to avoid breaking them! I also stopped making them on that one day of the year, because I found it was important to my life as a Christian to make resolutions all the time throughout my life. IT IS important to capitalize on occasions and events, especially those that beget reflection and contemplating life. Maybe for some of us, like me – January 1st has lost that appeal. For us Catholic Christians (and many other Christians who celebrate Advent too) we ought to take this very first day of the New Year in the liturgical year as an opportunity to make some Christian resolutions.
Christian resolutions might include to find ways to be more committed to our Christian lives; a resolution to be a better Christian this year than we already are. Maybe to try a new form of prayer that we live in faith and hope will deepen our relationship with Jesus. Maybe to be cognizant of our time and finding a way to give ever so slightly more time (or a lot more time if we can) to helping others or being with loved ones and those in need. Giving money and material things are very important of course, but in the world we all live in with lives seeming busier and busier – time is of the essence. As a family, we might consider a way we could pray together in an engaging and meaningful way. As a family, we might begin the “New Advent Year” by coming up with a way to put together a Christmas hamper to give to another family in need. Our Advent Resolution might also be to really take time to consider how we might become more free to live and give ourselves as Christians in a world that like it or not, needs the strong and solid Christian witness now more than ever.
As you can see, I am only reaching the tip of the iceberg here.
I might also suggest that there is a big difference between worldly resolutions and Christian ones. It’s been my own experience that when we fail, the world isn’t always friendly to these failures. How many of us have made the New Year’s resolution to “get fit” and then find things get in the way of that and yet we’ve got this gym membership we’re paying dearly for all year? Or we sign up to play a sport and then we find it impossible to make it? The difference is that our Lord is a Lord of encouragement and love. We celebrate the Son of God coming into the world when we, as a People of God got things so completely wrong, and He brought us back again. And He keeps bringing us back. Advent is a time that most of our parishes have Reconciliation Services (I spend a lot of time in Advent & Lent going to many of those parishes), with many priests hearing many confessions. I often offer to people I meet in the confessional this thought or perspective: Jesus calls us to “be perfect as My Heavenly Father is perfect (Matt 5:48)” but then in His deep love for us, gives us the “gift” of confession when we’ve fallen short. Perfection is still and always our goal and the desired end for a Christian, but we have an understanding God who loves us despite our failings, falls, shortcomings, weakness – He loves us no matter what and encourages us to just pick ourselves up and keep trying.
Broken “resolutions” are just a sign we need to keep working at it; joyful and determined to be the best Christians we can be. As we begin this season of Advent, let’s all make the commitment to make more of an effort to be the people our Lord and God created us to be; if each of us do that one more little thing: the world will be transformed by it.
A short reflection based on Fr. Chris’ homily given at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish on the First Sunday of Advent.