It is December 1. We are well into the holy season of Advent, a time of self-examination and preparation for the coming of Jesus at Christmas.
Today’s Gospel, Matthew 7:21, 24-27, finds Jesus saying to His disciples, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord, ‘ will enter the Kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.”
Words are not enough. Concrete action is needed. Jesus says that we have to build our faith on rock – that is Himself!
“Everyone who listns to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. But it did not collapse; it had been set solidly on rock. And everyone who listens to these words of mine but does not act on them will be like a fool who built his house on sand. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. And it collapsed and was completely ruined.”
Advent is a time to build our faith – to build on rock – to build on Jesus Himself.
Faith is a precious gift – one that we ought not take for granted.
Some forty years ago, I learned a great lesson about the preciousness of faith. I was a young Brother training in the pastoral care department of a hospital in Connecticut to minister to the sick and dying and their families. I share with you two experiences that occurred on the same day. I was going from room to room introducing myself and offering a pastoral visit. I knocked at this one door, stuck my head inside and introduced myself. The elderly man in the bed waved me away. I was about to move on when I noticed that he was looking at me intently. I was wearing a black suit and the sign of my community on my jacket. His waving me away suddenly turned to beckoning me to come in which I did. He just looked at the sign (the one that is on my blog letter head). He said nothing. Awkward moments passed and finally he exclaimed in a heavily Italian accented voice, “Ah! Passionistae !” I paused and said, “Yes, I am a Passionist.” He said, “I know you. I grew up near the convento in Sicily. You are the people who go around yelling and screaming and putting people in Hell.” I said to him, “We don’t do that anymore. We try to put people in heaven these days.” He stared at me and finally said, “Sit down!” I visited him each day for the remaining three weeks of his life. We had some good conversations, and he reconciled himself with the church and with God. For this I am grateful.
I left this man’s room and continued with my visits. I could hear sobs coming from one room. I knocked on the door, looked in and saw an older man crying. A woman was asleep in the bed. I was about to excuse myself when the man told me to come in. I did and he told me that his wife was dying and that the hardest thing for him to accept was the fact that it would soon be over. He would never see her again. I listened, and somewhere along the line, I told him that he would see her again in heaven. He told me that he did not believe in an after life; that this life was all there was and it was coming to an end. He was bordering on despair.
I felt bad for him. There was nothing to sustain him and no future. He had no faith. Surveys point out that almost 30% of adults who identify as Christians question the existence of an after life with God or deny this reality. This is mind boggling to me as the foundation of our Christian faith lies in the belief of Jesus’ Resurrection and the promise of eternal life to those who believe.
Today’s first reading, Revelation 14:1-3, 4b-5, is all about faith and future life. Revelation tells us that we who believe – who accept Jesus as Lord and Savior – are blessed. The day will come when we will be gathered together by the Lamb – Jesus -and will be with Him forever. We will live the fullness of life promised by Jesus to those who believe in Him. Faith is a precious gift. We can loose it. This Thanksgiving week, we thank God for this precious gift and pray daily for an increase of faith.
Today’s Gospel, Luke 23:35-43, finds us at the foot of the cross. Jesus hangs there in horrific agony. Crucified on either side of Him are two criminals. One of them mocks Jesus; the other acknowledges his crimes and humbly implores Jesus, “…remember me when you come into your kingdom.” With parched tongue, Jesus replies, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
When I reflected on this Gospel passage earlier today, I asked myself, “Which criminal am I?” Am I the one who denies my sinfulness and mocks Jesus by my arrogance and self-righteousness or am I the one who acknowledges my sinfulness and humbly seeks forgiveness. If we are honest with ourselves, we can identify with one or the other of the two criminals. Which one do you identify with?
We do not walk our journey to God alone. Countless men and women from today and yesterday walk with us, accompanying us, inspiring us and motivating us to continue bravely in spite of all odds. It’s helpful to be connected with them and to know their stories.
The following is from a letter of a great woman of the past: Rose Philippine Duchesne ….
“Let us never lose courage or despair of God’s mercy. We have only to humble ourselves before God in order to obtain grace to become all that we ought to be.”
And that’s God’s Will for us: to become all that we ought to be.
Just enter into the Gospel scene for a moment. Luke tells us, 19:41-44, that “As Jesus drew near Jerusalem, he saw the city and wept over it.” Jesus knew that within the lifetime of some of His disciples, the Jews would rebel against Roman rule and that the Romans would brutally subdue His people and destroy the holy city. He loved His people and He loved this holy city. His compassionate heart was moved to tears.
You continue to weep, Jesus. You continue to be moved to tears of compassion as you look over our world today and see the hardness of heart that envelopes nations, peoples and even our own individual hearts. You know that we are on a path of self destruction. You are not aloof from us. You came into this world not to condemn but to save us. Open our eyes to the salvation that awaits us if we but embrace you.