Homily for 1st Sunday of Advent 2013 (Year A)
The other day, one of my best friends, whom I haven’t seen for almost a year now, called in to Bendigo from South Australia. He didn’t tell me beforehand that he’s coming because he wanted to pay me a surprise visit. It would have been a lovely surprise for me, if we did catch up but we didn’t. Believing that I was so busy that day, he didn’t bother to come to the parish office. He went on to Melbourne instead. He left me a message though stating his plan of surprising me with his visit only to realize (as he said) that he has forgotten how busy a parish priest is. Anyway, I rang him back and told him of my disappointment to have missed his visit. I said to him: ‘Next time, when you plan to surprise me, give me a ring.’ Sounds funny but I was a bit serious about it. What I wanted to tell him was that if he was already in the vicinity, and was close by, he could have rung me and acknowledges his presence around. I would have welcomed him and accommodated him no matter how busy I am- he is my best friend after all. It was a bit disappointing.
Friends, I’m sharing this with you because the theme of ‘Coming’ is one reason why we celebrate this season of Advent in our Liturgical Calendar- the coming of Christ (Christmas), his coming into our lives and in our hearts and his coming at the end of time. The difference between the coming of Christ and the coming of my friend is that though Christ’s coming is at ‘the hour we do not expect’ he didn’t mean to ‘surprise’ us. Otherwise, many of us would have been disappointed, or even missed his coming. Rather, he gives us hints of his coming. He offers us ways and opportunities to prepare for his coming. He urges us as we have heard in our gospel today to ‘stand ready for the coming of the Son of Man.’ This means that he wouldn’t want to disappoint us, or he wants us not to be disappointed in the end. This is one Good News for us in this season of Advent- for us to realize that God doesn’t want us to be disappointed in the end. He gives us time to prepare for his coming, so that we will not miss him and also because he loves to take us with him to his kingdom. So while we still have time, we’ve got to do some preparations ourselves for his coming.
So how can we prepare for God’s coming?
We can think of many ways. I can offer you three ways. It works for me, and I hope and pray it works for you too.
First, is to keep the line of communication with God open. This means keeping in touch with him always through many ways and forms, such as attending mass daily for the whole of Advent as a personal resolution, taking meditations and personal prayers as part of our day, reading and praying with the gospels, listening to the voice of God speaking to us through the ordinary human events, and seeing God through the events that are happening around us and in the world. We have to remember God likes a personal communication, that’s why we celebrate Christmas, because this is a decisive moment in our salvation history when God shows us that He really is serious to keep in touch with us human beings in a more real and more personal way.
Second, is to make ourselves available for him all the time. This requires of us to accept his ‘friend request.’ He is knocking at the door of our hearts all the time. Have we listened to his voice inviting us to be part of his big circle of friends? God loves to call us his friends, proof to this; he lay down his life for his friends. I assure you, friendship with God brings wonders not only to our own lives, but also in our relationship with other people and even in the things we do that help us live a truly human life. If God is our personal friend, we worry less about our own lives and we work more for God and for his people. If God is our personal friend, we don’t care what people say or think of us. All we care is that our friendship with God would never be broken by betrayal and infidelity. The beauty about being a friend of God personally is that we can be completely vulnerable before him, we become true to ourselves, and we can be completely open to him. In fact, we can even get mad at him I tell you. Another wonderful thing about God’s personal friend is that we come to appreciate our real selves, faults and all, because we know that there is a God who cares and loves us no matter what it takes. Friendship with God who is loving, holy and perfect enables us to share his life personally and more intimately, and helps us to become more loving, holy and perfect as he is.
So how we might realize God’s friend request to us? Let us resolve to talk to him constantly in prayers. Let us listen to him in the Scriptures. Let us enjoy his self-communication in the Eucharist. Let us also listen to him speaking to us through ordinary situations and events around us. Let us make him a part of our life day in and day out. Let us include him in our daily works and in our decisions. In other words, whatever we do, wherever we are, let us be aware that God is present in there. In this way we are making ourselves available to him all the time.
Third is to be the concrete representative of Christ in the world today. This is a big challenge for us because as human as we are, we tend to be contented only with what is typically human as we have heard in the gospel today (Mt 24:37-44): eating, drinking, taking wives, taking husbands, doing the ordinary human ways, in other words focusing more on the material things than the spiritual, focusing more on the superficial than on the real meaning of our human existence. St Paul in our Second reading (Rom 13:11-14) would tell us to go beyond our human cravings and earthly longings by giving “up all the things we prefer to do under cover of the dark (our sins); let us arm ourselves and appear in the light (reconcile with God through the sacrament of penance); let us live decently as people do in the daytime” (be honest, be transparent, and be faithful to what God has called us to be and to do.
So as we begin this season of Advent, while preparing for Christmas and looking forward to Christ’s second coming, let this question be a point for our reflection this first week: “What spiritual preparation are we taking to show Christ we are ready to welcome him when he comes?”
I hope and pray, we will not disappoint him and that we will not end up disappointed.
Homily for the Solemnity of Christ the King 2013 Year C
When I was a kid, specifically in my grade school years, the idea of a king always fascinates me. The type of a king I read in the book or heard from fairy tale stories always captured my imagination and even made me aspire to be like one. I pictured a king who has many subjects, who has many servants, who is living in a Palace, who is sitting in golden throne holding a golden sceptre, eating the best of food, has plenty of gold and money, and has everything that he wants including having the most beautiful woman in his kingdom. I was really fascinated by this. And to be honest with you, this aspiration had been part of my motivation to become a priest. Not that I wanted to have the most beautiful woman there is in the world, but because when I was growing up, I could see some priests where I come from live like ‘pseudo-kings’ in their own right. They’ve got their own driver, full-time secretary, cook all year round, full-time sacristans, even bell-ringers in some parishes. The priest would only have to say Mass, or celebrate the sacraments, or visit people or stay in his presbytery most of the time. It really was an appealing lifestyle for me then. But for some reasons, or by God’s sense of humour, He called me to be a priest and start living it out in Australia, not in the Philippines. I don’t have any complains, in fact I love it because no matter where I am, I’m still a priest. I noticed too that the priest in Australia is his own presbytery, because he is the only one there all the time anyway. But what I love being a priest here to start with my priestly ministry is that it keeps me grounded, it keeps my feet on the ground, it keeps me on the same level with the people, people generally look at me as a friend or a potential friend rather than a ‘priest’ up in the pedestal, it keeps me in touch with my humanity all the time. I had to do my own laundry at times, iron my clothes, cook my own food, drive my own car, or sometimes walk, as I go about with my priestly duties and visit people. But by doing all these, I come to realize that I can never become a king, because by being a Christian and priest at that, I am committing myself to only have one King in my life- not myself, but Christ- the King of the Universe.
This is one reason why we celebrate today this Solemnity of Christ the King. We celebrate this because we renew our commitment to Christ as the centre of our life, as occupying the prominent place in our hearts. Though this feast is instituted by Pope Pius XI in 1925 to counteract the growing secularism and atheism, it is still very relevant in our day and age, in fact, we need this more than ever. This serves as reminder for us, that in our Christian life, our hearts must not be solely-focused on ourselves or on our selfish interests but on Christ, who has come to save us from eternal death. But the good thing about having Christ as the centre of our lives is that we get a share of his kingship- the kingship that is characterized by love, by service and by sacrifice. In Christ, we all have the potential to be kings if we do follow him serve the poor and needy, listen to the cry of the poor, tend the wounds of the vulnerable, to serve and not to be served.
So how is Christ as our King?
The Kingship of Christ is really strange in the eyes of the world. Francis Moloney, A Scripture Scholar, and a Salesian priest, has this to say about our solemnity today: “The Strangeness of Christianity is most obvious in the liturgical celebration of its King. Instead of a celebration of some glorious enthronement, we read about a man on a cross.” Flor McCarthy another Salesian priest and preached would also add: “Here surely was the strangest of all. He (Jesus Christ) was not out to conquer but to convert. He was not out to rule but to serve. He was not out to hoard possessions but to give them away. He devoted all his love, all his time, all his energy to seeking out the sick, the poor, the lost and the lonely. At the end he even gave his life away for those he loved, and he loved everybody.”
We who call ourselves Christians, i.e. followers of Christ, how can we imitate the ways of our King?
Certainly, we can find many ways to follow Christ our King in the gospels. Yet, we need to ‘seek first the Kingdom of God and everything else will be given unto us.’ It means that we strive to develop in us the seed of the Kingdom that God has given us- the seed that when grows become the kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love and peace.’ [preface for Christ the King]
It’s quite a challenge because it is a lifetime task. If we are serious in our following of Jesus, let us imitate him even in his being a King- a shepherd king who searches out the lost (First Reading), a saviour king who is willing to take on death for his subjects to live (Second Reading), and a servant king who is willing to take on everything including mockery and jeers from the people who are opposed to us, just to obey and do the will of the Father (Gospel) not as a one-off task but a daily commitment and must permeate in all that we do and in all that we are.
The other thing we can do is to make it our goal in life to live in the kingdom of God, to make this our desire to be part of the ‘establishment committee’ of the kingdom of God, so to speak. This is a big call, and it is a quite difficult challenge to take because according to Pat O’Sullivan, the Spiritual director in Corpus Christi Seminary Melbourne, “most people in our world do not want to live in the Kingdom. Most people don’t want God to reign in their hearts and in their world…most people don’t want a Kingdom where there is no distinction between rich and poor, where status symbols are a non-event, where power and authority are opportunities to serve.”
One other way is to learn from the faith of the ‘good thief’ in our gospel today. He expressed his faith in Jesus in three ways: First, he humbled himself before Jesus; second, he acknowledges his sinfulness; third, he stood up for Jesus despite the mockery, of those near the cross including the other thief crucified with them [‘Have you no fear of God at all? You got the same sentence as he did, but in our case we deserved it: we are paying for what we did. But this man has done nothing wrong.’ And because of this amazing gesture and expressions of faith even in the brink of death, the ‘good thief’ received the greatest vindication he could receive. Because of his faith in Jesus, he has encountered him and this encounter is so real for him, so intimate and so personal that he (and none other in the gospel had done or said before) could address Jesus by name: ‘Jesus, remember me, when you come into your kingdom.’ And we heard the most beautiful word of Jesus that we in the end of our life should hear too: ‘Today you will be with me in paradise.’
So as we continue our celebration of the mass today, let us ask ourselves:
How are we as a people of faith?
Are we willing to stand up for it no matter what it takes, or what it cost us?
Are we willing to follow Christ our King, even if it leads us to the foot of the Cross?
Christus regnat, Christus Vincit, Christus Imperat!
May Christ the King reign in our hearts!
 Patrick O’Sullivan, SJ, Prayer and Relationships: Staying Connected- An Ignatian Perspective (Kew, Vic: David Lovell Publishing, 2008) 44-45.