Today we celebrate the Second Sunday of Advent. The season of Advent began in the evening of Saturday, December 2nd and will end in the afternoon of December 24th. Side note: Notice that the season of Christmas in the Church doesn’t end on December 25th, but it starts on that day.
A carpenter and his apprentice were walking together though a large forest. And when they came across a tall, huge, gnarled, old beautiful tree, the carpenter asked his apprentice: “Do you know why this tree is so tall, so huge, so gnarled, so old and beautiful?” The apprentice looked at his master and said: “No...why?”
“Well,” the carpenter said, “because it is useless. If it had been useful it would have been cut down long ago and made into tables and chairs, but because it is useless it could grow so tall and so beautiful that you can sit in its shade and relax.”
I taught recently the 4th graders in school during their religion class about the liturgical season. We spent, of course, a decent amount of time on Advent. Why purple for Advent (and Lent as well)? (My brother-in-law, who is from Minnesota and is a Vikings fan will love this post.)
Purple, a fusion of red and blue, is an interesting color. Blue symbolizes calm, steadfastness, and stability. Think of a deep blue sky or sea. Red, on the other hand, symbolizes passion, energy, and movement. Think of fire. Purple combines the steadiness of blue and the fervor of red. In Advent we are called to be focused, recollected, and somewhat solemn as we prepare for our Lord's coming into our lives at Christmas. But we are also called to be alert and excited—and for the same reasons.
The segment from Isaiah (Is 40:1-5, 9-11) in our first reading has this mix of emotions. “Comfort, give comfort to my people,” we hear in the opening line. “Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,” continues the prophet. This is quite blue.
But it turns red quickly. “A voice cries out...cry out at the top of your voice.”
Molecules and compounds were the topic of discussion when I popped into our school's science lab one day. A molecule is two or more atoms of an element chemically joined together. A compound, conversely, is when the two or more conjoined atoms are of different elements. Sodium chloride (NaCl), for example, would be a compound. Sodium and chloride combined form salt, salt being the whole or end result. Complementarity, two different elements fitting to complete a whole, is the spiritual principle at hand.
Happy Advent! The Israelites before Christ waited for a savior to come into the world, and, in a way, we wait too. Look at this line from the Prophet Isaiah in the first reading: “Why do you let us wander, O Lord, from your ways, and harden our hearts so that we fear you not?” (Is 63:16). Could we not today ask that same question?
God came into this world when he took on flesh 2,000 years ago. But he needs to come again into the world, and he needs to come more fully. By ‘more fully,’ I mean he needs to come more completely into our lives. We do not know Christ as well as we ought. We do not love him as much as we could. Advent is a time to deepen our love and knowledge of Jesus—to allow him to come into the world.
Jesus intends to come again, which means he intends for us to have a better relationship with him. This is why he tells us to watch in the Gospel. Be on the lookout this Advent season!
Happy New Liturgical Year!
Sunday, December 3, 2017, marks the beginning of a new liturgical year and a new liturgical season. The liturgical calendar for Sundays is divided into three years: A, B, and C. Each year we read in a special way one of the Synoptic Gospels: Matthew, Mark, and Luke. What about John? We read the Gospel of John for special celebrations, such as the Passion of the Lord on Good Friday and during the season of Easter. Today, we begin year B, and on Sundays we will be reading from the Gospel of Mark, excerpts from Luke, and chapter 6 of John.
From a Homily on the Feast of Christ the King
Father Aloysius Schmitt was just finishing the 7am Mass aboard the USS Oklahoma docked at Pearl Harbor when eight torpedoes slammed into the ship's side. Within minutes the ship rolled over and began to sink. The 32-year old Catholic priest immediately began to direct frenzied men through a small porthole to escape the capsizing ship. Bob Burns, who had served at Mass that morning, was one of those sailors who escaped. Burns recalls: “[Father Schmitt] recognized my voice and said, ‘Over here!’ There were two gentleman topside pulling, and he was pushing people through — he pushed me out. He was one of the finest men I had ever known. It was an honor knowing him.”
The priest was being pulled out of the porthole when he heard the voice of other men behind him. He insisted he be dropped to help those still trapped. Father Al died alongside 429 men aboard the Oklahoma. The Catholic priest was the first of any chaplain to die in WWII. The 5th year anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood would have been the next day—December 8th.
When the ship was raised from the bottom of the bay 16 months later, the priest's body was not found, but only the chalice he used at Mass. Recognizing the heroic priest's bravery, in 1944 the Navy presented to Fr. Al's hometown in Iowa a crucifix made of wood from the deck of the Oklahoma. The body of Christ on the cross was shaped from the ship's metal. Then, in 1947, a chapel was dedicated to Father Schmitt by Samuel Cardinal Stritch of Chicago and Admiral Chester Nimitz, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet. 75 years later, on December 8, 2016, his remains were at last identified and interred in that Iowa chapel. A true king serves, and Father Schmitt acted like a king. The name of the chapel was, fittingly, Christ the King.
I read recently Burr by Gore Vidal, a 1974 novel that centers on the infamous early American figure, Aaron Burr. Burr is known to history as a scoundrel. He shot and killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel, was tried for treason when his plot to become king of the west was uncovered, and was removed as Vice President of the United States. If murder and treason were not enough, he was also an adulterer.
Today is the Feast of Christ the King. I'd like to incorporate in my little scriptural reflection an homage to Claudette Link. Claudette will be retiring from the parish staff on November 30th. Claudette raised her family at St. Juliana and has worked at the parish for nearly 25 years.
The parish secretary is on the front line, answering phone calls, meeting visitors, etc. A person's impression of the parish can be affected by the personality of the secretary. Well, I would bet people's impression of Saint Juliana was that of a caring, joyful, and vivacious place. Because that is the type of person Claudette is! Claudette genuinely cares about every person she meets, and usually instantly becomes friends with that person.
There is a unique and special and secret identity to each of us, and this is what will remain in heaven. T.S. Eliot's poem, The Naming of Cats, captures it well:
The Naming of Cats is a difficult matter,
It isn't just one of your holiday games;
You may think at first I'm as mad as a hatter
When I tell you, a cat must have THREE DIFFERENT NAMES.
We all have different gifts. Some are blessed with athletic or musical talents, some are blessed with financial acuity, some are blessed with affability, and some are blessed with the ability to grow facial hair, particularly mustaches (myself). Whatever your gifts are, they are given to you by God and need to be put into action. That is one lesson from the parable this Sunday about the talents (cf. Matt 25:14-30).
The man given only one talent who fails to invest it but instead buries it in the ground until the master comes for the accounting, is scolded. He not only has the talent taken away (and it is given to the servant who was originally given five talents and then made five more), but he is thrown out into the darkness. This isn't about the master being harsh. It is about the servant wasting the opportunity.
I've had stuck in my head this past week "The End" by the Doors. This is the end. My only friend, the end.
Saint Paul writes about "the end" to the Thessalonians. He wants them to be aware of the end; to be as knowledgable as possible about where all those who have died currently are. “We do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, about those who have fallen asleep, so that you may not grieve like the rest, who have no hope” (1 Thess 4:13).