Entrance Antiphon: Is 30:19, 30 — “O people of Sion, behold, the Lord will come to save the nations, and the Lord will make the glory of His voice heard in the joy of your heart.”
First Reading: Is 11:1-10 — “He shall judge the poor with justice.”
Responsorial Psalm: Ps 72:1-2, 7-8, 12-13, 17 — “Justice shall flourish in His time, and fullness of peace forever.”
Second Reading: Rom 15:4-9 — “Christ saves everyone.”
Alleluia: Lk 3:4, 6 — “Alleluia, alleluia. Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight His paths; all flesh shall see the salvation of God. Alleluia, alleluia.”
Gospel: Mt 3:1-12 — “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
Communion Antiphon: Bar 5:5; 4:36 — “Jerusalem, arise and stand upon the heights, and behold the joy which comes to you from God.”
Here is a one-line summary of the readings for this Second Sunday of Advent. Isaiah and John the Baptist witness to humility by a radical honesty about our stance before God. Huh? So, what exactly do I mean by that? Let me explain …
How many of you remember Fulton Sheen? Well, in the early 1950s, then Bishop Fulton J. Sheen had a half-hour television show. Over the years, he covered a good number of topics, but one particular broadcast had to do with the meaning of the virtue of humility. We got to watch it and a number of other broadcasts when we were studying the virtues in the seminary. Bishop Sheen explained that humility is truth about oneself. As part of his instruction, he went on to say that to deny one’s talents and abilities would not be humility, for, as a virtue, humility requires that we recognize those qualities in ourselves while also giving credit to God as their source. In other words, humility is truth … and part of that truth is giving credit where credit is due.
In this weekend’s First Reading, the kings under whom the Prophet Isaiah lived, failed to give proper credit to God. And you know what? We see exactly the opposite in this weekend’s Gospel. John the Baptist freely recognized the superiority of Jesus, and he was well aware of his own status as the precursor … the forerunner … the last Prophet ... the one who came to prepare the way for Jesus.
There is an old saying about power. It says that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. That might be applied to the kings of Israel in the days of Isaiah the Prophet in the First Reading. Forgetting the history of God’s activity in the lives of the people of Israel, those kings tended to take credit for their success and would not humble themselves to trust in God’s guidance. The Prophet Isaiah often tried to offer them guidance … but it didn’t work. They simply felt that they didn’t need God. They were, after all, sovereign kings.
And so, let’s fast forward to December 2022. We might not be sovereign kings, but how many of us have that same attitude today? How many of us today feel we don’t need God? And before you answer that question … I simply ask you to sit back and think about it for a moment ... Take a look at the empty seats around you in this church or for that matter think about any church in southern New Jersey ... think about any church in the northeast part of this country ... consider any church in the entire United States or in Europe.
Let’s look at some statistics. In 2015, 1 out of 3 Catholics attended Mass regularly. Today, that number is 1 out of 5 … maybe 1 out of 6 … so 80 to almost 85% of the Catholic population simply feels like they don’t need God. And how do I come to that conclusion? Well, because if people felt they needed God, then I think they’d attend Mass ... and they’d attend Mass despite how they felt about the Priest, the Bishop, the Scandal, or anyone else they want blame and anything else they want to point their finger at. Having a relationship with the Lord or not … going to Mass or not … is between the individual and God and bottom line, NOTHING should affect that. And since all of you are here today, I’m speaking to the choir at the moment, right? Perhaps I should get off the soapbox. But I have another idea though. Maybe you should invite someone you know who no longer attends Mass to read this homily on my blog: lep-reflections.net or tell them about it and maybe invite them to come with you to Mass next weekend.
In the First Reading, when Isaiah’s words weren’t getting anywhere with the powers that be, he looked to the future and offered up a description of the ideal king … the one who knew His place as a servant of the God who was more than willing to bless them … if they only asked for His help. Isaiah describes that as a result of His humble obedience, that King would bring a remarkable peace to the people and even to the rest of nature. And so, I ask you to think again. Does that sound like Someone who might be familiar to you? ... Does that description remind you of Someone you should know?
In the Gospel, John the Baptist could have easily fallen into the same trap that gripped the ancient kings of Israel. John was a very popular preacher and was experiencing fantastic success. People were coming to him from all over and accepting his preaching and baptism. He had it made. But John knew the truth about himself … it wasn’t he who was attracting the people … rather he knew it was God, who was using his ministry to prepare for the coming Messiah ... And at first glance ... given his popularity ... John could have easily claimed to be the Messiah ... and many would have believed him. But that wouldn’t have been the truth. He wasn’t the Messiah … John’s mission was to prepare the way for the Messiah. As John will later say “He will increase while I must decrease.” He knew that Jesus was and is the Messiah and only Jesus was sent to save us.
So, back here in 2022, let’s apply these ideas to ourselves. In the truth that is true humility, we need to admit that we need God. Let’s face it, in reality, we are not in charge ... like I said on the Solemnity of Christ the King ... none of us are not the CEO of the universe … and when it comes right down to it, in all honesty, none of us are even the CEO of our own lives. And so, having said that, please don’t misinterpret what I am saying. I’m not saying we are mere puppets manipulated by God nor at the other extreme are we totally independent creators of our own lives. Honestly, it’s the good Catholic answer of both / and ... the truth lies somewhere in the middle. We can easily take credit for our talents and abilities as though we gave them to ourselves or earned them. True, we may have exercised them and developed them well, but ultimately, we did not endow ourselves them. Our gifts, talents, and abilities ... who and what we are ... indeed come from our loving God. God is the one who blesses us by bestowing on us all that we are and all that we have. And yes, it is our God-given task to develop and use the gifts given to us in the service of God and others. Take some time this week to consider how well you accomplish that.
The season of Advent is a time of hopeful waiting … waiting for the God who is to come, both at the Feast of Christmas and at the end of time. How better to prepare our hearts to receive Him than to honestly recognize God’s gifts to us and in us, and to be truly thankful by using them to serve both God and others? In the Eucharist, we should offer our thanks and praise to God for who and what we are. In humility, we truthfully admit to our goodness … we should embrace it with love … and we should give thanks and praise to God … because in the Eucharist, we have the perfect example. He freely gives Himself to us time and time and time again.