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Second Sunday of Advent 'A' Homily – Part 2

John the Baptist

          On this Second Sunday of the New Church Year, John the Baptist stands before the ages and us in Chapter 3 of St. Matthew. He shouts out an invitation to repentance. He warns of impending judgment. He exhorts us to find security only int the Lord himself, not in superficial religious identity and external observances:For God can raise up children of Abraham [even] from mere stones", said to offset complaisance in one's religious lineage. John's mission yearned for the renewwal of hearts in "metanoia" - an "about face" - back to the Lord who saves the penitent.

          The contemporary biblical scholar, Celia Sirois, points out that the kings in Isaiah's day did not readily rely on the gifts of God's spirit but on human political councilors to govern; we know they were often tempted to make alliances with pagan rulers, something forbidden by God as their true King and ruler. Furthermore, this same scholar reflects that in John the Baptist's day, manu among the priestly aristocracy (the Sadducees) were in collusion with the occupying Romans. Thus Isaiah of old and  the later John the Baptizer, "delivered a politically charged message"! And so at the crossroad =s of salvation history, where John the Baptist stood, every religious leader especially, but also every common man and woman, needed to hear that there is now a "new [religious] possibility" in society - [namely,] "a new exercise of power at the service of repentance and religion" that we now call social justice!" It serves both God and humanity in a God-given 'New Order of things'!

          John pointed out Jesus Christ as the Promised Messiah, now standing in the very midst of the people. He is the One who will baptized by Spirit and fire. For the Spirit Is Fire! – He brings about staunch change by the graced decision of the heart and a renewed will for God. The Spirit is like fire that burns away the chaff of a sin-divided heart. The Spirit turns us back around to the healer and lover of our souls and to one another in solidarity! Baptism and penance are the works of the Spirit, the gifts again of the Messiah. But the Messiah's gifts also change community, for society is the milieu of the human person, and every person is in essential relation to family, community, and broader society. God and Person and Society are all addressed by the Lord of the End Times. John the Baptist bears witness to this broader and socially inclusive notion of religion, and we must not miss it as so many of his own contemporaries did!

          Conversion of heart, the fruit of the Spirit, is surely not self-centered. It is God-centered and other-centered. The penitent will  praise God in the assembly of believers and will  serve the Church of God and the mass of humanity, for all are called to grace. We repentant sinners will take our place in the universal "concert of praise" to the extent that we are intent on the total evangelization of the self and society. (This is a celebrated theme in Vatican II's document, Gaudium et Spes! .)

          So the Lord of Advent today calls us to the confession of our sins to God, to the church and to all humanity. He bids us follow him into service. He bids us this sacred Time and Season according to its original meaning: namely, the Celebration of Redemption at the Incarnation of the Son of God the Savior. To recognize him and to follow him is to turn the back of our 'grasping self' and to turn towards God and our neighbor in grateful penitence. Naturally, service is offered through the spiritual and corporal works of mercy – the outreach of the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity, and the four moral virtues of prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude of soul. Faith and hope and love stretch out to God and to family and neighbor in need through works of brotherly and sisterly charity.

          In our Gospel reading today, Jesus Christ does not speak directly to us. In Matthew 3, it is again, John, Precursor of the Lord, who speaks, but in the presence of the Lord and of the first disciples that Jesus Christ will call. John's point is that the works of formal-exterior religion do not satisfy the purpose of God's holiness. The "tree must bear good fruit to be cut down." Before God we stand at a moment of great decision. Such is the mentality of the true penitent. Do note that there is an urgency here! An urgency that we truly perceive the multiple layers of discipleship of Christ. We are to worship God in humility of heart, and we are to extend God's gift of mercy and love to our own kind, and especially to those in need. Comfortable living for sure must NOT exclude social justice in the markeplace, thus rendering a ready and active concern for the less fortunate. Of the Messiah that we prepare to meet in today's sacred liturgy and at the End of all Time and History, John the Forerunner of the Lord says: "His winnowing* fan is in his hand; he will clear his threshing floor, and gather his wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire."

          (*) Parenthetically, not being familiar enough with harvest and agricultural imagery in the bible, I turned to the Dictionary of Biblical Imagery (Published by the InterVarsity Press/England/1998/p.136). It reads: "In *winnowing, grain is threshed in order to separate the kernel of grain from the husk and straw. The mixture is thrown into the air with a winnowing fork or shovel. The wind blows the light husk away, the heavier straw falls near the edge of the threshing floor, and the grain [directly] falls back to the floor to be collected. Both the light husks and the heavier straw are ... translated "chaff"  in the bible."

          Please God, the Word has entered our hearts to stay there in saving grace! We are humbly ready for him to renew our baptism with fiery decision in the mind and heart. We accept our loving obligations to our own household, our friends and neighbors, and to the Lord's poor. The Lord's judgment is a consuming fire indeed. We submit ti his judgment for our own renewal. And we place no hopes in our religious observance that closes us off from deeply discerning conscience and generous outreach. For you and I, not unlike John the Baptizer, are expected to become AN ADVENT OF THE LORD TO ALL THOSE AROUND US. For our mission too is to "prepare the way of the Lord, and make straight his paths! For all flesh shall soon see the salvation of our God". Amen.

Written by Fr. Sam Anthony Morello, OCD

Second Sunday of Advent 'A' Homily – Part 1

Bernard of Clairvaux

          Introduction: How Time flies! Here we are already at the Second Sunday of Advent! And "the world as we know it is passing away" faster than we would like, with ourselves moving right along with it! We move with this Sunday of Advent deeper into the Final Age of the World that announces the absolute End Time, when the Kingdom of God will be definitely established. The First Coming of the Lord at Christmas opened the Final Age of salvation in which we live. The First Coming actually prphesied the Second Coming, for just as he came the first time, so most assuredly wi;ll he come again! As St. Bernard put it on the first Wednesday of Advent at the liturgical Office of Readings: "He came in History; he will come again in Majesty; and moreover, he continually comes to us in Mystery". What Bernard refers to as the Lord's Middle Coming or his Comings-in-mystery focuses on the contemplative "visitations" as he called them, moments of infused-contemplative intimacy. To these we can add the mystery comings of Christ in our sacred liturgy, as well as in significant human encounters, and in the multiple lessons of real-life-in-faith that can discipline and mentor us in 'reality' and in f'finality'.

John the Baptist

          This Sunday's sacred readings foresee The Great Messianic Era of Justice and Peace. In a synthetic presentation of today's readings, the Franciscan commentator Fr. Roland Faley informs us that the selection from Isaiah 11:1-10 is "taken from the Book of Immanuel wherein the future Messianic king is depicted, [as well as] the Era of Peace which he inaugurates." He adds that in Matthew 3:1-12 "the beginning of John the Baptist's ministry presents the prophet as an ascetic forerunner whose call for conversion of life sets the stage for the One who is to come" after him. And in Romans 15:4-9, Paul stresses the importance of Christian "hope . . . to be lived in a community of spirit of harmony and charity." In a nutshell he has succinctly introduced us to the three readings of today.

          The Word of God clearly teaches that the Way of the Lord is interiorly prepared by conversion of heart. In the first reading, Isaiah foresees that a shoot from David's line--the House of Jesse, his father--shall bud and produce the Messiah – the Promised One. Like the great menorah (the temple's tall lampstand with its seven branches that burned oil-fed flames in the inner Hall of the 'Holie' of the Temple), the Messiah would be filled with the sevenfold Spirit of God: the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and fortitude, the spirit of knowledge [and piety], and the fear of the Lord. (Biblical exegetes teach us that the Septuagint-Greek and Vulgate-Latin versions of Isaiah 11:2 add "piety" to the original Hebrew occurence of 'fear of the Lord'; the addition of "piety" thus renders seven gifts, rather than six [See footnote, NAB, Is 11:2f]. It is from the Greek Version of the O.T. that we drew our Christian theology of the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit, featured by the Messiah and communicated to all the baptized.

Holy Spirit
          Uniquely, the Messiah himself confers upn mankind the Spirit of the Lord so that we might repent of our sins. The Spirit enables us to see things as God sees things; thus he turns us back to God as our origin and destiny, and thus to God as our happiness. The Messiah shall be clothed in justice and faithfulness. He shal bring in an age of ideal social peace and harmony between mankind and beasts and the forces of nature, among all the peoples of the earth, and between the nations and their God. The Gentiles shall indeed have a share in this, "for the [whole] earth shall be filled with knowledge of the Lord as water covers the sea." And, "On that day, the Gentiles shall seek out the root of Jesse [in Jerusalem], for his dwelling shall be glorious." As our responsorial psalm celebrated: "Justice shall flourish in his time, and Peace in its fullness forever".

          When the Final Age of Salvation opens, the Prophet Joel in Chapter 1 foresees the Messiah's giving the GIFT of the Spirit to absolutely everyone who calls upon God's Name, even if they are beyond the Pale of Judaism. God's Spirit will give the impulse of conversion to the human heart, which, akin to the Promised Messiah, will be all flame with the Spirit's gifts.

Mary the Virgin

          I remember from childhood that in pre-Vatican II times we had the understanding that Advent featured the great biblical personalities of 'faith-filled expectation' and hope-filled waiting': Isaiah the Prophet was the first personality of hopeful 'Waiting' –> a preacher of Advent who even now continues to exhort us in the liturgy. By the Second Sunday of Advent, John the Baptizer appeared on the scene as the desert-ascetic and penitential preacher;  this also is still the case: John points out the Messiah to his followers and to us! Mary the Virgin in the old Advent Liturgy appeared later, closer to Christmas; she was and still is the third personality of expectant waiting! But since the revision of the liturgy at Vatican II, Mary the Virgin appears even on the first day of Advent in the Divine Office as the featured recipient personality–the Great Woman and the New Eve of Eschatological Hope and Fulfillment. So these three biblical personages still accompany us on our way to Christmas Day and even to the End Time of the Second Coming of the Lord. And we walk in their footsteps.

To be continued...

Written by Fr. Sam Anthony Morello, OCD

Some Aspects of Independence Day - July 4th, Civil Religious Liberty, & Authentic Christian Freedom – Part 2

        Under grace, we Catholic-Christians strive for a deeper development of our human personality in the lights of both reason and revelation (rational thinking and God's Word). We Catholics believe that our human DESTINY has been revealed as GOD ALONE. 'We have no purely natural destiny!' That is our Catholic theological conclusion from the collective data of sacred scripture. We are made to enjoy God's own life in 'time' through grace, and in 'eternity' face to face, in the stability of God's supreme Being and Freedom! Such is human 'happiness in God' for which we were created. Therefore, we need to steer clear of freedom's opposite: –> Slavery of all kinds - our own and of others'. To have a clear ideal of true freedom, we need to register the 'risks' of sin and addictions; for they spell the opposite of freedom. If freedom for me is always choosing good for myself and others, I will abuse neither my own dignity nor anyone else's, once I have acquires discernment and mature freedom under grace.

        Christ freed us for liberty says Paul (Gal 5:1). That means that Jesus Christ offers his followers authentic human freedom, graced human freedom. With it comes the capacity to habitually choose what is good, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. That is the 'positive' side of discerning in the concrete the 'negative' blindness of self-deception, the weight of habitual sin, and the enslavement of any crippling addiction. For none of these can bring us happiness; for none of these can make us free.

        Jesus related freedom to his revealed Truth:  If you remain in my word..., you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free (Jn 8:31-32). We all want to enjoy the "glorious freedom of the children of God", as Paul puts it to the Romans (8:21). But not a freedom that gives way to the world, the flesh, and the devil;  these three deceptions are vanities that only give us momentary satisfaction, but then they sour into experiential dissatisfaction with our very selves. Willingly being "slaves of God" (Rom 6:22) avoids all "pretexts for evil" and establishes us in the "will of God" (cf. 1 Peter 2:16). Being aligned with the will of God sets us free, personally and collectively.

        'Freedom' (like 'Happiness', and like 'Peace') comes from learning how to love unselfishly -- hot to love God, and love other human beings 'in God'. Love is what freedom is for! "GOD IS LOVE (1Jn 4:16). And God's love is infinitely gratuitous Goodness! His holiness is his Goodness. And remember that because God is absolute Goodness, God is absolutely Free. So, serving the good of persons, contributing to the common good of society, is what freedom is 'for'. Human freedom is never a license to simply do what we please, no matter the consequences. [And, by the way, neither are we free as Christians to choose human 'Means' that illicit and immoral, even when the 'Goal' is good and praiseworthy. Note that this is not even clear to a good segment of our American leadership in this electoral year. Think, for example of –> "Waterboarding" <– as a "Means" to the 'Goal' of National Security! .... Brutality even for a 'perceived Good' is a heinous crime! (Here think 'ISIS'; and I rest my case.)]

        If we want the dignity of Freedom, let us vigorously strive from within for the dignity of Goodness. Think of the Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount (Mat 5,6,7); therein Goodness knows how to "sacrifice" oneself for genuine advantage, especially for the good of others. think of the generous men and women in uniform of our Armed Services; of our city-police forces and first responders in daily peril amid social chaos [[ and, Yes, 'Black Lives Matter', And 'Blue Lives Matter', because 'All [Human] Lives Matter!' ]];  and also remember our heroic firefighters, ever ready to save our homes and hatred has no place in a 'just society' of mutual respect.

        Jesus Christ is God's Goodness and God's Freedom Incarnate! To serve God "in spirit and truth" means to serve him in "freedom for goodness". May America move more and more towards the service of love in an all-inclusive society:-love of human life and dignity from 'womb to tomb'; love of genuine freedom in committed matrimony between a man and a woman, with children nested in stable-family love; and with other short and lifetime commitments to Society and the Churches that elevate the human condition,  furthering human happiness up against the Kingdom of God still to be fully revealed.

        In Conclusion: May God grant America from home-grown and foreign terrorism! May God make America a gentle force that, by its influence, radiates harmony outward to all human beings, from West to East, from North to South, advancing fraternal and sisterly communion, in all directions, until the Lord Jesus comes again to do what we humans have never managed to do with any stability, namely "To put Humpty-Dumpty back together again"! Amen. And "God bless America!"

Written by Fr. Sam Anthony Morello, OCD

Some Aspects of Independence Day - July 4th, Civil Religious Liberty, & Authentic Christian Freedom – Part I

From a conference given to the Discalced Carmelite Nuns in Little Rock and Missionaries of Charity.
        Thanks to the Internet's historical data, offered free as a public service, we can affirm that precisely 240 years ago, the Declaration of Independence from England, was signed by the Continental Congress of the original 13 colonies of the USA. That was on July 4, 1776, in Philadelphia. The first newspaper to print the Declaration was the "Pennsylvania Evening Post" on July 6, 1776. On July 8th, the Declaration had its first public reading, repeated later that same day in Philadelphia's Independence Square. Church bells pealed for both public readings. And the "Province Bell" in the tower of Independence Hall would later be named 'Liberty Bell' after the inscription – "Proclaim liberty throughout all the land / Unto all the inhabitants thereof." The first Independence Day celebration took place the following year, in 1777. By the 1800's the tradition of parades, picnics, and fireworks were established as the way to suitably keep 'America's big Birthday'.

        As the founding fathers severed the umbilical cord from King George III's England, they, by way of an introduction to the document they were drafting, referred to the "laws of nature and of nature's God" as entitling them to 'declare their grievances against the crown', and their 'independence' from it! And the next document immediately professed certain "truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights and that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

        When we Catholics hear that declaration, we think immediately of the "Natural Law" written on our hearts. A Law written in our very nature by the Creator of the world and its peoples. That Law binds all governments which it supersedes; all human institutions need to heed and follow it to fulfill their own natural objectives. The Natural Law is the foundation of all human society; it calls all human societies to an international sensibility of communality under the One divine Origin of all nations.

        The United States is known internationally as the 'Land of the Free'; personal freedom is its hallmark. Now, we Catholic-Christians are particularly concerned with the "Right of Religious Freedom", both personal and civic. And so, let us consider the following in order to go deeper into the natural phenomenon of freedom and its purpose.

        Here allow me to address what I consider 'misconception' of our contemporary American-secularist mentality, with its atheistic tendencies:  -we have grown up with the legitimate notion of the separation of Church and State. Multiple times I remember reading Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI's agreeing with the contemporary Western conviction that it is better for the State to be separated from any particular Church -- better for the State, and better for the Churches! But our present society is identifying 'God' with any mention of 'church' at all, or with any 'religious stance' taken by an individual person in the name of religious 'conscience'. Surely, no institutional church is God himself, nor is God a particular church. To the "Separation between Church and State", we say 'YES'! We American Christians accept and promote it. But the total separation of 'State from God' is not the meaning of this juridical separation. Even the little cash money in our pockets exhibits: "In God we trust!" -- and the inauguration of any American president since George Washington has included prayers and a benediction by a religious minister. Surely neither of these traditions is in violation of the U.S. Constitution. At least, not so far...!

        God help us American Catholics come to a deeper sense of what our human freedom IS. That quest requires that we seek help from divine revelation. For divine revelation reveals not only 'mysteries' that we could never discover without explicit divine revelation ('mysteries', strictly speaking like the Blessed Trinity); but revelation also includes 'natural truths' that our sin-clouded minds tend to miss or obscure (e.g., the 10 Commandments as Natural Law). So revelation aids our intelligence and our undetermined freewill to know and operate within the ample range of our deepest identity and the full potential of personal freedom.

        It is precisely our intelligence and freewill that specify us as "human beings". And revelation helps our minds recognize that our God-given freedom (wounded by sin [i.e., turned in on itself by pride]) is not for self-aggrandizement! Liberty is "freedom for" .... Freedom for something else! That something 'for which we are free' is the attainment of our own Purpose in Life, and everybody else's Purpose. Otherwise, our use of freedom is not for GOOD. Individuals and societies of people have legitimate goods to be attained that benefit both their temporal and eternal wellbeing: - and taken together, we speak of 'wholistic wellbeing' - i.e., wellbeing of our composite of spirit, soul, and body (Paul in 1Thes 5:23); i.e., wellbeing in time and in eternity....

To be continued...

Written by Fr. Sam Anthony Morello, OCD

The Year of Consecrated Life

Last fall when we learned that contemplatives were also invited to participate in a special program of activities organized by CIVCSVA for the conclusion of the Closing of the Year of Consecrated Life on the 2nd of February 2016, to the great surprise of contemplative nuns, we were invited to participate! In Rome! Each Federation or Association was invited to send their President and a companion from the Association. Sr. Mary Clare (Terre Haute Carmel) and I went from the Association of Mary, Queen of Carmel in the U.S. and we were joined by six other sisters from the U. S. Associations.

Carmelite Sisters representing the U.S. associations in Rome

We participated in a week of meetings for about 4,000 to 5,000 religious from around the world. Each consecrated life group had their own venue for conferences. The contemplative nuns’ was at the Urbaniana, the Pontifical Urban University. The celebration culminated with an audience with Pope Francis and the Papal Mass to close the Year of Consecrated Life. During all those days we were amazed that we were actually in Rome and were meeting Carmelite Nuns from all over the world! And we walked through the Holy Door during the Jubilee Year of Mercy!

Carmelite Sisters from the U.S. at the closing of the Year of Consecrated Life

After a very full week, we had a day with Fr. General to consider On-Going Formation, the area the nuns requested help with at the General Chapter, and a website for this purpose. Everyone was aware of how historic these meetings were and we were filled with gratitude that our associations were represented and we were able to participate.

Carmelite nun visiting St. Teresa's town of Avila in Spain

On our last day together the sisters from CCA, St. Teresa’s Association, and Mary, Queen of Carmel Association made a visit to Assisi with Fr. Rafal Wilkowski, OCD, who drove us and showed us around. On my way home, I spent three days in Spain visiting some of the Carmelite sites. The hospitality of our friars in CITeS and the nuns in Medina del Campo and Alba de Tormes was wonderful!

Written by Sister Angel Teresa, OCD 
Discalced Carmelite Monastery, New Caney, TX
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