Today we celebrate the Second Sunday in Advent and Christmas is just barely three weeks away. Every year during the Advent season we are each challenged to prepare ourselves for the Coming of Christ at Christmas. It is good to ask ourselves this year, “Will this year’s Advent preparations make a significant change in our lives or will it just be another routine annual reminder that will not have much effect on us, when Christmas day comes?
Today’s Gospel theme is clearly proclaimed by John the Baptist that we should all repent of our sins if we want Christ to come into our lives. This topic of repentance from sin is a topic many homilists seem to shy away from as though it is “politically incorrect” to speak about such sensitive topic. And even as they preach on it, they will very quickly move on to speak about God’s Mercy and His unconditional Love. In other words in many churches there is a tendency of preachers to be over careful in not hurting people’s feelings that the Word of God can at times no longer be truly challenging or prophetic. If we preachers only say what people like to hear, then we will be failing in our responsibilities.
A good professional doctor who discovers that his patient is dying of cancer cannot and should not hide the truth, regardless of how devastating the news may be from his patient. His has still eventually to find the most humane and compassionate ways of revealing the truth. Likewise, it seems to me that if we all want to grow and mature in our faith, the Truth of the Gospel has to be proclaimed, regardless of how painful it is for us This is provided that in preaching the Gospel, we preachers are not condemning people, but instead challenging people to become more Christ-like as Jesus expects of all His believers.
Gandhi once said, “If Christians were to live their religion, there would not be any Hindus in India.” You and I are sinners. Unless we are first consciously aware of this, our hearts would not be open to God’s Spirit that is constantly challenging us to change for the better and become more Christ-like. It seems to me that one of the most basic reasons why we find it so difficult to change our ways of living is because of our lack of “self-awareness.”
Whether we like it or not, we are influenced by the secular world in which we live. Unless, we are consciously aware of our need to learn more about our true and more authentic selves, as the Gospel of Christ challenges us, we will more easily be drawn into a routine way of living, behaving and thinking which is not too different from people who do not know Christ. If our daily living is as secular as non-Christian believers, then it is clear that our daily choices are not consciously based on how Christ wants us to live.
The signs of this happening in our lives are when we find ourselves not being affected by the people and the world around us. We find ourselves living in our own world, so to speak. Some examples of this are when a beggar comes us to us for some money, and we turn away without feeling anything, or when our consciences are not pricked or our compassion are not moved when we hear of millions of people dying of starvation, killed by typhoons, cyclones and earthquakes in the world or worse still when we are not particularly affected by the inhumane ways we treat others like our maids, our aged and sick parent or loved ones we are called to care for, or when our loved ones are loosing their faith or living immoral lives and the like.
The degree to which we are affected by these painful realities of our homes and people around us, are to a great extent indications of how deep our faith in Jesus is. Our faith and love for Jesus must be concretely measured by the quality of our daily living as found in the Gospel. It is not enough to fulfil our Sunday Mass obligations by coming to Church, our Sunday obligations also essentially include our obligations to live out and put into actions what we celebrate in the Eucharist.
How many of us here can honestly face God and say that we are without sins and faults? None! How many of us here can honestly face God and say that we are truly conscious of trying to live Christ-like lives daily after we celebrate the Eucharist on Sundays? How many of us also have to admit honestly before God that we do not pray at home seriously enough because of the many things that somehow distract and draw us away from God and the spiritual needs of our lives.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, I am not here to condemn any one of us. As a homilist, we are called to present the Gospel of Christ in such a way that they are meant to connect and challenge our daily living. It is then up to the hearers individually to reflect on and pray about the challenges that are being proclaimed. Unless, we are seriously challenged to live the Gospel, we cannot say that we are seriously preparing for the coming of Christ at Christmas. Let us return to our homes today and ask ourselves once again, “How much knowledge do we have of ourselves?” “Do I really know myself?” “Do I really know how I am really living my life?”
There are broadly two types of people in this world: some are always complaining while others are always grateful; some are always miserable while others are always hopeful; some are ruthless and arrogant while others are respectful and humble; some are constantly defensive while others are open and changeable for the better. Most of us probably fall between these two extremes.
My sisters and brothers in Christ, in all probability the complainers, the miserable, the ruthless and arrogant, the defensive and the like often lack self-awareness. These are people who would find it almost impossible to answer the question, “Who am I?” and “What is life truly about?” If we lack self-knowledge, we would also likely be persons who refuse to listen to others and are closed to feedback from others about ourselves. These people are sadly locked into their narrow perception of their selfish needs and would literally be unconcerned about the needs of others. The meaning of repentance that John the Baptist proclaimed, for such a person would not have much effects on them, for deep within them, there is no real desire for change and year in year out, the Advent season challenges are merely routine reminders that will not have significant effects on them.
On the contrary, for those of us who are positive and grateful about life and more importantly grateful for the abundant blessings that we receive from God; we will still be hopeful when things go wrong and trials take a toll on us because we believe that God is always there for us, for those of us who are respectful and humble, and are changeable for the sake and good of others, we can be sure that we would be persons who are caring, concern and selfless in our service of others. And if we are able to live in this way because we love God dearly, then we can be sure that it would be second nature for us to answer the questions, “Who am I? and What is life about?” This is because if we live for God and we will have sufficient self-knowledge and openness to repent of our sins and deeply desire to live more fully for God and His ways.
As I conclude, let us remind ourselves that as St John the Baptist in today’s Gospel challenges us to repent of our sinful ways, I would like to end with this prayer:
O sweet Mother Mary,
give me a hear that is fresh and open
as the heart of a child,
and as transparent as the waters of a clear spring.
Give me a generous heart
that does not brood over the unpleasant things
it has encountered.
A magnanimous heart that gladly gives itself.
A heart that knowing its own weakness
understands and becomes more deeply sympathetic
towards the weaknesses of others.
A deep and grateful heart
that does not overlook small things.
Give me a heart that is gentle and humble
and loves without expecting love in return;
that gladly leaves another’s heart
to give way to Your Son.
A noble and buoyant heart
that will not become embittered by disappointments;
that because of its faults
will not become ungenerous in its sacrifices;
that will not be paralysed by trials;
that will not be irritated by neglect;
and that will not be discouraged by indifference.
But, give me a heart that in its love of Jesus
will be drawn by an irresistible current
towards the further honour and glory of Jesus Christ,
and will find no rest until I enter into heaven.
Fr Philip Heng,S.J.
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