Advent III Homily
My beloved spiritual children:
Rejoice in the Lord alway!
Those are the first words you heard when they were chanted at the beginning of today’s Mass. And in case they did not sink down, they were repeated in the Epistle: Rejoice in the Lord alway, and again I say rejoice!
The joy Holy Mother Church and St Paul urge is not the manufactured gladness or giddiness so common during this time of year. Neither is it a sentimental happiness or the seasonal delight we might feel.
Rather, they are encouraging the deep-seated joy that cannot be shaken by various trials or temptations; the rejoicing that simmers quietly within us despite many annoyances and hassles; the gladness that is undisturbed precisely because it is rooted and grounded in the promise, the hope, the vow by the Lord that, no matter what happens, His will is done and He will come through.
So this joy—this delight in the Lord’s mysteries available in all circumstances; this unmatched pleasure shown us in the holy virgins, steadfast confessors, and the faithful martyrs; this satisfaction in beholding our Lord God with our own eyes both in His Blessed Sacrament now and in the beatific vision in the life to come—this is the joy that this Mass desires to enkindle within each person here present, both living and departed.
It is a joy that is not diminished by sorrows or fears or sacrifices for the love of others; A joy that continues even in persecution; a joy we read about and that inspires us in the lives of St Mary of Paris in the concentration camp, or faithful Russians in the Gulag, or resolute Orthodox Christians in Syria—those who, more than we ever have, see in suffering and hardship, in being deprived of basic freedoms and rights, that the Lord has not abandoned them but is beside them, strengthening and leading them; that he is in fact their way of escape, and their way to live in miserable conditions.
However, when we have better comforts or when we only see what is in front of us—then this joy can be stolen by an all-consuming need to instruct others according to our self-determined truth; yet it is restored by quietly meditating on Truth himself. This holy joy can be stolen by the need to be right; but it is restored by aligning your way with and in the Way. This holistic gladness can be stolen by anger at those abusing your rights, by anxiety and fear for the future, by insisting that my truth be heard; but it can be restored by listening with inner stillness to the ‘voice of one crying in the wilderness, prepare ye the way of the Lord.’
How seemingly incongruent. Here, amidst traffic sounds, the screeching of competing voices in society, the clatter of what you and we and us must do—here, amidst all the noise that competes for our attention and that creates so much commotion and confusion in our minds—how can we, here in this place and time, even begin to distinguish and tune into the ‘voice of one crying in the wilderness?’
The temptation is to flee to the wilderness. Or that we think we’ll only be able to truly listen to St John’s voice once we’re able to make, or find, or set aside quiet time. Once the noise out there abates, once the chatter in our head subsides, once things slow down—we think that then, and only then, will we be in the right frame of mind to listen to the voice of the One. And only then, so we falsely think, can we truly begin to rejoice in that deep-down way that I mentioned before.
But it truly is possible to find the wilderness, and to listen to the voice, in this time and place. We simply need follow St John as he invites us to prepare a path and plow a road into the interior silence of our hearts. If we can only, for a moment, ‘be still and know that [God] is truly God.’
“Happy is that [person] who has so fled the world’s tumult, who has so withdrawn into the solitude and secrecy of interior peace that he or she can hear not only the Voice of the Word, but the Word Himself: not John but Jesus.” (Bl Guerric of Igny)
To get to that point, we need to make a path through the distractions and clutter in our head, down through the murkiness of our selfishness, past the tangle of our passions, avoiding the diversions of various temptations, into the deep of our heart and mind where we, not too long ago, saw our Beloved Lord. He entices us by saying, “I remember the devotion of your earlier days, you loved like a new bride—how you followed Me, called out to Me, searched eagerly for Me, longed for Me. I remember and can see that you remember and desire those days.”
Fortunately, blessedly, by God’s grace, riding within the Lord’s summons is His Spirit, which inspires and strengthens us to straighten and smooth out the rough ways. For the voice of the One doesn’t simply sound. The wind of the Spirit gently breathes into us the humility and gratitude to flatten the mountains and hills of our arrogance. That’s what is so good about St John the Baptizer. He reminds us of the need for repentance, the need to turn our heads and hearts away from the so-many-things that make us think they matter more that attaining our homeland; the so-many-things that shout down the voice.
The quieting so that we hear—that doesn’t happen magically or even miraculously. It takes work. Not heavy lifting, but diligence. Not one more thing, but the one thing needful. To be sure, every passion and all the voices inside and outside will resist this work and urge you to give up. But these don’t want you to taste the sweet and pleasant things along the Way. They want you to spin your wheels. And they see stumbling and falling behind as failure rather than as the way of Christ.
Remember Our Lord’s way. For His way needs to be our way. That’s what St John urges us toward: the Way of the Lord. And the Lord’s Way. That way is strewn with unpleasantness as we battle our own desire to do it our way; as we oppose the Way, Truth, and Life with my way, my truth, and the life I want.
But as we let the Word, who is Christ, enter, He will seek to align our ways with His Way. And His Word will ask to overcome whatever we think we ought to believe or say or think. In His Way, however, we will find true quietness—a quieting of our chaotic desires, a quieting of our undisciplined passions, a quieting of the noise that drives us to despair. And then, by the merits and prayers of the Saints, we will begin to see Our Lord’s Way and Word not as His truth or a truth or even the truth, but that He is truly the One who is the Way itself, in the Truth He is, toward the only Life there is; to whom, with His Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, belongs all glory, honor, and worship: world without end.
13 December 2020