December 15, 2013

Homily for the Third Sunday of Advent, Year A

Fr. René J. Butler, M.S.
Director, La Salette Shrine
Enfield, NH
We are in Cycle A of the Sunday readings, in which the majority of the Gospel readings are from Matthew. In a few weeks we will be reading his account of Jesus’ Baptism. “Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John tried to prevent him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and yet you are coming to me?”

That was chapter 3 of Matthew. Today’s Gospel is from chapter 11. John needs to know: “Are you the one?” Strange, isn’t it? He knew him then. How can he now have doubts?

What has changed is that John is now in prison! It would appear that this was not what he expected.

Jesus’ answer is in two parts:
  1. Look around you. Everything prophesied in Isaiah 35 is being fulfilled—and more besides!
  2. Blessed is the one who takes no offense at me. What we have here is a beatitude! (There are many beatitudes in the Bible besides the famous 8 of Matthew 5.)
Have you ever been in a time of crisis and had a well-meaning person tell you how lucky or blessed you were? If so, you might be tempted to think the second part of Jesus’ response to be insensitive. Would you tell a prisoner how lucky he is?

Actually, this part of Jesus’ words corresponds to another part of the first reading: “Strengthen the hands that are feeble, make firm the knees that are weak, say to those whose hearts are frightened: Be strong, fear not! here is your God.”

And in the second reading, James invites us to patience, to firmness of heart.

All of today’s readings acknowledge that the life of faith isn’t easy!

Blessedness, then, is not a matter of external circumstances. In my 40 years as a priest, only once have I had a cancer patient tell me how blessed she felt! That takes a depth and breadth of faith that one rarely has the privilege of encountering.

Things also can be “blessed.” Jesus told his disciples once, “Blessed are your eyes... Blessed are your ears.”

In today’s readings, we see that patience is a blessed thing. So is trust. So is hope.

The current translation of the Roman Missal has restored the phrase “Blessed hope” in the prayer following the Our Father. Until two years ago It read, “As we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior Jesus Christ.” Now, like the Latin original, it reads, “As we await the blessed hope and the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.”

The “blessed hope” is the firm confidence in “his coming.” Like the quality of mercy, it is twice blessed: It is blessed in its object, namely the return of Christ; and it is blessed in the courage it inspires.

The expression comes from Titus 2:13: “For the grace of God has appeared, saving all and training us to reject godless ways and worldly desires and to live temperately, justly, and devoutly in this age, as we await the blessed hope, and the appearance of the glory of the great God and of our savior Jesus Christ.”

This describes Advent perfectly: it is the season of Blessed Hope.

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