Tuesday, December 14, 2010

14 December 2010

Memorial of St. John of the Cross, Third Tuesday in Advent

For the past three and one-half years, since shortly after ordination, I have been celebrating the 7:30 AM Mass every Tuesday in the chapel at Georgetown University Hospital and then again at noon in the medical school chapel.  Today was the last time.  Thus begins a string of (at least temporary) goodbyes.  This coming weekend I will visit my home parish, All Saints Parish (St. Mary’s Church) in Plymouth, PA where I’ve gone more or less monthly to help out on weekends. 

Saying goodbye is sobering when it is for a long period of time.  Much will change in the coming months.  A new class of students will enter the medical school in August.  Some of the parishioners will move away, become ill or die.  Perhaps there will be some new regulars at the hospital Mass (one can judge the severity of the traffic on the beltway by late arrivals at Mass).   

I remain grateful for the opportunity to celebrate Mass and preach regularly in these three venues: hospital, medical school and home parish.  Each presents unique opportunities in congregations that bring vastly different prayers and needs to Mass.    Below is the final “regularly scheduled Tuesday homily.”

3rd Tuesday in Advent
14 December 2010
Zep 3:1-2, 9-13
Ps 34
Mt 21:28-32

We are moving rapidly toward the great Feast of the Nativity of the Lord.  Two days ago, we lit the dusty rose candle in the Advent wreath.  Only one candle to go. 

At Friday vespers Mary’s Magnificat will be introduced and closed with the first of the seven ancient “O” antiphons, which, when one pays attention to the words, are the seven verses of O Come O Come Emmanuel in reverse order.   Another sign of the waning of Advent is the references to John the Baptist ‘s message in the Gospel readings.

This particular Gospel passage comes just after Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem.  In the time between that entry paved with palm branches and his arduous journey carrying the cross, Jesus engaged in debates and discussions with the chief priests and elders.  Using parables, he pointed out contradictions in what they preached and in how they lived, he demonstrated how they heard John’s call to repentance but failed to heed it.

The second son represents those who proclaimed the law but failed to follow through on its principles and demands.   The first son represents the social and religious outcasts, public sinners, who, despite not following the law,  heeded John's call to repentance. 

How often have we acted like the brothers described in the parable? 
Promising to do something and then reneging on the promise; or refusing a request only to confront the discomfort of a guilty conscience and then quietly doing what we were originally asked to do?  The most likely answer is often.

We can all accuse ourselves of mouthing principles that we fail to practice, the “do as I say not as I do” syndrome.  

However, we can all take comfort in the fact that sometimes, after an initial misstep or series of missteps, we get it right, we follow God’s will for us. 

Over the next few days the readings will remind us of our common humanity with those who said yes to God’s will: Zechariah, the father of John the  Baptist who did not get it right on the first try.  Joseph who initially doubted and prepared to divorce Mary but heeded the angel’s admonition “do not be afraid.”

And finally, Mary, whose fiat, whose radical yes, “may it be done unto me according to your word” changed the history and destiny of the world.

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