Advent II Year C

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Remorse is always a prisoner of the past; it does not shrug its shoulders and forget it. The past is present; the fault is ever before the eyes, but there is no way to undo it….
Repentance is also self-reproach, like the other states, but it is never sterile; it lays hold of the past by undoing it through penance. Both Judas and Peter denied Our Lord, but Judas repented unto himself, which was regret and remorse, and took his own life; Peter repented unto the the Lord, which produced a new man

Fulton Sheen , On Being Human, Garden City, 1982: 73
 
The prophets are not always prophets of doom, they also proclaim the message of hope to Israel, in the midst of exile, when times look dark, they are to wrap the cloak of integrity around themselves, and put the crown of the glory of God upon their heads. It is the message of trust, trust in God alone as the source of our hope, the only rock on which to build a life of faith.
As the people of God we are to trust in and to live lives which prepare for the second coming of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, as our Saviour and our judge. To be a Christian, then, is to live a life where our love for each other, and for God, increases day by day as St Paul puts it. We are to grow in virtue by being virtuous – it’s simple, practical and fairly un-glamourous. It takes prayer, a lot of prayer, undertaken by all of us.
In this morning’s gospel we see the last of the prophets, John the Baptist, the son of Elizabeth and Zechariah, as he prepares the way for the Lord. He proclaims a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins: calling the people of Israel to turn away from the ways of selfishness and sin, to turn back to God. He is a prophet who fulfils prophesy, what Isaiah looks for is fulfilled in John the Baptist In our baptism we promise to turn away from sin, the world, and the devil; we turn away from what the world thinks and does, because our baptism makes us pure and blameless, following the Commandments of God, and shown to us in the life of Jesus Christ. We turn away from the world and we turn to Christ. We are in the world, but not of it. 
The church, then, must be a voice crying in the wilderness. What we proclaim may well be at odds with what the world thinks we should say and do, but we are not called to be worldly, to conform ourselves to the ways of the world. We live in a fallen world, which is not utterly depraved but which falls short of the glory of God, but the church exists to conform the world to the will of God. To say to the world, come and have life in all its fullness, turn away from selfishness and sin, to have life in all its fullness in Jesus Christ.
Now, the world may not listen to us when we proclaim this; it may well choose to ignore us, to mock us, even to persecute us. We have to be prepared to do this regardless of the cost, to ourselves or indeed others. We must bear witness to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, and their saving work even if it means shedding blood, of losing our lives, because it says to the world: we trust in something greater than you, we know the truth and it has set us free, we are free to love God and to serve him, and to invite others to do the same, to be baptised, to turn away from the world, and be fed by word and sacrament, built up into a community of love, offering the world a radical alternative, and holding fast to the truths which the church holds dear, since they are given us by God.
 
It’s a big, a daunting task, which, if it were up to us individually, we would have no chance of achieving. But it is something which we can do together, as the body of Christ, and relying upon God alone: it is his gospel, his church, and his strength in which we will accomplish this. Too often we trust in ourselves and fail, we need to trust in God and ask him to bring about the proclamation of the Gospel through us. We need to be like John the Baptist, preparing the way for the Lord who will come again as our Saviour and our Judge.  

 

This is what we await in Advent: the coming of Our Lord as a baby in Bethlehem and his second coming as Our Judge, bearing in his glorious body the wounds of love, borne for us and our salvation. So let us prepare to meet him and live lives which proclaim his saving love and truth to a world hungry for meaning and love and thereby honour God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, the consubstantial and coeternal Trinity, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just all might, majesty, glory, dominion and power, now and forever.

Trinity XIII 22nd Sunday of Yr B ‘Be doers of the word, and not merely hearers’


From the Sayings of the Desert Fathers: an instruction sent by Abba Moses to Abba Poemen
A brother asked the old man, ‘Here is a man who beats his servant because of the fault he has committed; what will the servant say?’ The old man said, ‘If the servant is good, he should say, “Forgive me, I have sinned.”’ The brother said to him, ‘Nothing else?’ The old man said, ‘No for the moment he takes upon himself the responsibility for the affair and says “I have sinned,” immediately the Lord will have mercy on him. The aim in all these things is not to judge one’s neighbour. For truly, when the hand of the Lord caused all the first-born of Egypt to die, no house was without its dead.’ The brother said, ‘What does this mean?’ The old man said, ‘If we are on the watch to see our own faults, we shall not see those of our neighbour. It is folly for a man who has a dead person in his house to leave him there and go to weep over his neighbour’s dead. To die to one’s neighbour is this: To bear your own faults and not pay attention to anyone else’s wondering whether they are good or bad. Do no harm to anyone, do not think anything bad in your heart towards anyone, do not scorn the man who does evil, do not put confidence in him who does wrong to his neighbour, do not rejoice with him who injures his neighbour. This is what dying to one’s neighbour means. Do not rail against anyone, but rather say, “God knows each one.” Do not agree with him who slanders, do not rejoice at his slander and do not hate him who slanders his neighbour. This is what it means not to judge. Do not have hostile feelings towards anyone and do not let dislike dominate your heart; do not hate him who hates his neighbour. This is what peace is: Encourage yourself with this thought, “Affliction lasts but a short time, while peace is for ever, by the grace of God the Word. Amen.”’ [1]
In this morning’s Gospel, Jesus is uncompromising when dealing with the hypocrisy of the Scribes and the Pharisees: their religion is a façade, a sham, something done for show, for outward appearance, whereas we know, from the prophets onward that God looks on the heart, and if our motives are suspect then, we’re in trouble. The point is simple: what we do affects who and what we are, hence the need for the people of Israel to observe the statutes and ordinances without addition or subtraction. Likewise, the advice of the Letter of James is that people should in all gentleness and humility both listen to the word of God and do what it says, so that their thoughts and words and actions proclaim the truth that Christ died to save them from their sins and rose again that they might have new life in Him.
Rather than the pharisaic obsession with exterior cleanliness (and the letter of the Law) Our Lord and Saviour is concerned with the cleanliness of people’s souls, as it is from within, from the human heart that sinfulness can spring: his point is a simple one we become what we do, and thus the formation of a moral character is important, and can only be brought about by doing the right things.
There is a problem, however, that despite our best intentions we will fail in our endeavours. So what do we do? Is it simply a case that having tried and failed we are written off, cast aside and prepared for hell and damnation? By no means! Just as in the Gospel Jesus commands his followers to keep forgiving those who sin; our lives should be ones where we are continually seeking God’s forgiveness and that of our brothers and sisters in Christ, so that slowly and surely, as part of a gradual process, as people forgiven and forgiving, we try day by day to live out our faith in our lives. It is something which affects us all, each and every one of us, and it is only when we can live it out in our lives that our proclamation of the Kingdom can look authentic rather than running the risk of  being accused of hypocrisy.
So, by seeking forgiveness and forgiving others, by being close to God in prayer, in reading the Bible, and in the sacraments of the Church, and in the love which we have for each other as a Christian community, which recognises both that we fail but also that together we can be something greater and more wonderful than we could apart, through the love of God being poured into our hearts, and through that love forming who we are and what we do, that self-giving sacrificial love shown to us by Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, in his dying for us, so that we might live in Him, let us be attentive to the Word of God, the Word made flesh, and not simply listen but also act – relying not upon our own strength but upon the love and mercy of God, seeking His forgiveness, to do His Will. 
When we do this together then we can be built up in love, as living stones, a temple to God’s glory, which proclaims his love and truth to the world, which shows how forgiveness and sacrificial love can build up, rather than being bitter and judgemental and blind to our own faults: like the scribes and Pharisees, eager to point out the sins of others and yet blind to their own faults, failures and shortcomings. Instead, clothed in the humility of our knowledge of our need of God, his love and mercy, let us come to Him, to be fed by Him, to be fed with Him, to be healed and restored by him, so that we can live lives which speak of the power of his kingdom so that the world may believe and give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever.


[1] Sr Benedicta Ward(tr.) The Sayings of the Desert Fathers: The Alphabetical Collection, London: A. R. Mowbray 1975: 120-121