December 15, 2019 – Third Sunday of Advent
The following was originally delivered at St. Pius X Parish in Indianapolis in 2016:
I’m sure my wife would agree with this statement: I am often wrong. I don’t want to go so far as to say I’m an expert at it, but I do think I’m well above average. Something like that doesn’t happen overnight; it’s perfected over time.
I have embraced my knack for being wrong. I own it.
Here is one example of many: I was a freshman in high school. Our first Algebra test was coming up. The day before, Mrs. McCurdy spent the entire class period reviewing for the test. I dozed off for part of the period. I drew some pictures in the margins of my textbook. I finished up some English homework. I flirted with the cute blonde girl who would eventually become my wife.
Mrs. McCurdy also offered a practice session prior to school the next morning. Several of my friends went, but not me. Math always came easy to me. I didn’t need to pay attention to the review or attend any practice sessions.
I was wrong. I failed the test.
I assumed Mom would understand. I had never failed a test before so I felt certain she would cut me some slack.
I was wrong. She was quite upset with me.
Despite her anger, I knew she would keep it between the two of us. No need to bother dad about this.
I was wrong. And dad was quite upset, too.
Certainly grounding me was not an option. How was grounding me going to make me better at Math? That made no sense.
I was wrong. I was grounded for a week.
My first high school dance was the following weekend. I knew I was grounded, by my parents weren’t heartless. I was positive that they would lift the grounding and allow me to go.
I was wrong. I was not allowed to go the dance. I was allowed, however, to work on Algebra all night.
You get the idea. And again, this is just one example of many.
It came to mind as I began working on this week’s homily. As I read today readings in preparation, I made an assumption that turned out to be wrong.
During Advent we look forward with joyful anticipation to the coming of Jesus on Christmas day. Our first reading from Isaiah and the gospel from Matthew share what the experience of His arrival will be like.
From Isaiah we heard: Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared; then will the lame leap like a stag, then the tongue of the mute will sing.
Much the same, we heard in the gospel: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, the deaf hear…
I could imagine the pure joy of receiving these remarkable gifts; I could imagine the rejoicing that must have taken place. Someone once blind, who had lived his life in darkness, could now see! Someone deaf, never able to hear leaves rustling in the breeze or to hear someone say her name, could now hear! Someone who was lame could not only walk, but could leap like a stag! Someone mute suddenly had a voice. Such beautiful, awesome gifts!
I am happy for the blind and the deaf and all who benefit from these gifts. But what does that have do with me? After all, I am not blind or deaf or mute or lame.
In looking over some commentaries on today’s readings, I came across one that read: If you believe these readings are not intended for you…if you believe you are not blind or deaf or mute, you’re wrong.
I’m used to being wrong, but these words made me reflect on how I was wrong. This is what I realized about myself:
I pass by people every day in need. I get so focused on myself that nothing else comes into my field of vision. Others are reaching out to me, but I don’t see them…I mean truly see them. I must be blind.
The noise of the world is all around me. Others need me and I am quite capable of helping them. There are people crying out for help, but I don’t hear them…I mean truly hear them. I must be deaf.
As a Christian, I am called to be the voice for the voiceless. I am called to speak on behalf of those who cannot speak for themselves – the unborn, the elderly, the homeless, and the disenfranchised. God is listening; He is waiting for me to speak for them – truly speak for them – but I say nothing. I must be mute.
There are so many ways that I could be actively engaged in serving others, and in so doing, serve God. I convince myself that someone else will take care of the needs of others. The world is in need of servants – true servants – but I take no steps to help. I must be lame.
I am blind and deaf. I am mute and lame. I thought these readings were only for other people. I was wrong.
The bad news is I have a lot of work to do.
The good news is I am in the midst of the Advent season and have time to prepare, time to begin that work. If I am diligent in my efforts, I will be transformed. Along with others who are blind or lame, I will be able to rejoice at His coming.
In the second reading, in the letter from James, we are given our preparation instructions: Make your hearts firm, because the coming of the Lord is at hand.
What does it mean to make our hearts firm?
We have often heard the scripture passage from Psalm 95: If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.
So, God wants us to have firm hearts, but not hardened hearts. What is the distinction?
A hardened heart is closed off to the needs of others. It beats only to sustain itself.
A firm heart has resolve. It fights through indifference and beats for the community as a whole. It beats to God’s rhythm.
A hardened heart is indifferent.
A firm heart is merciful, attentive, and charitable.
Pope Francis described a firm heart as “a heart that allows itself to be pierced by the Spirit so as to bring hope to our brothers and sisters.”
If you think these readings aren’t intended for you, you’re wrong.
If you think you have no work to do, or don’t need to prepare, you’re wrong.
If you think you’re not at least partially blind or deaf or mute or lame, you’re wrong.
However, you can combat these limitations by making your heart firm, and opening yourself to the gift of Jesus.
And there’s nothing wrong with that.