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Bishop's Homily for the First Sunday of Advent

December 1, 2019

[Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church, Ewa Beach]

Same old, same old!  We are so accustomed to our routines that we can forget what they mean in the first place.  We come here to Mass every weekend, we sing songs, we meet some wonderful people, we hopefully hear some inspiring words in the Scriptures and the homily, and we go home.  Some may find this routine boring, and some even decide that they have better things to do.  Even if we want to be here, it is easy for us to be oblivious to why we are here in the first place.  “As it was in the days of Noah, … they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage” – those normal, routine things that we just do because they are a part of life.  But as it was in the days of Noah, God sent a wake-up call by means of the flood.  Some, even though they may have perished, may have understood their need for conversion and repented of their sins as they drowned.  Others just thought it was some heavy-duty rain.

The wake-up call that the Church gives us is this season of Advent, in which we focus on the coming of the Lord Jesus.  For the first few weeks, we focus on his second coming at the end of time, and for the final nine days we focus on his first coming as he was born of the Virgin Mary in Bethlehem, with all the beautiful drama that surrounds the Christmas story.  But are we awake enough to realize that he is coming to us today, right here, right now, in the Eucharist?  The songs, the preaching, and the environment are all merely the setting for the jewel that is Jesus himself.  Do we realize that the Scriptures we just heard were the Word of God, and that Jesus is the Word made flesh?  He has spoken to us personally just now, so that his Word can become flesh in us and in all we do.  And in a few moments, the One who was born in Bethlehem, which means “house of bread,” and the one who was laid in a manger, a feeding trough for animals, will be physically present here as the Living Bread come down from heaven.  The same Jesus whom Mary held in her arms, who died on the cross for love of all people, who rose from the dead and ascended into heaven is physically present to us, Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, right here.  And he is not distanced from us by time or space, but he wants to enter into our bodies and souls in the most intimate communion of love we can imagine.

How often we Catholics just go about our same old, same old liturgical routines and leave here not even realizing that Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world, is here with us now.  And so, as St. Paul reminds us, “It is the hour now for you to awake from sleep.”  This Advent season is an alarm so that we will prepare ourselves for our encounter with Jesus – the one we will have here today at Mass, and the one we will have at the end of life when we will stand before his judgement seat.

St. Paul reminds us that “orgies and drunkenness,” … “promiscuity and lust,” … and “rivalry and jealousy” are not healthy for us or for anyone else.  He calls us to reform our lives, which, of course, if the first message of Jesus himself.  But the perspective is different, because we do so not by simply following laws, rules, and regulations, because that in itself can be a drudgery and make life very dull.  Rather we re-form our lives but by putting on the Lord Jesus Christ, being covered over by his merciful love.  Once we realize that Jesus is here with us and loves us beyond our imaginations, we will want to do good things, to serve others as he did, and to return his love by loving one another.  Sin will become less attractive and more repulsive the more we develop our relationship with Jesus.

There was much publicity recently in Catholic media about a recent survey that found that about 70% of Catholics do not believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, but see the Eucharist as a mere remembrance of his presence long ago and far away.  Is it any wonder that the number of Catholics who no longer attend Sunday Mass is growing?  If we only expect them to come for the music, the fellowship, or the preaching, I guarantee you that, no matter how good these may be, they will never be satisfied.  If we engage in the same old, same old, without waking up and realizing that it is a person we encounter here, the living Lord Jesus Christ, then we will be drowned in our own preoccupations.

If we who still come to Mass want to reach out to those who no longer do – or even to those who have never come – we need to wake up ourselves and realize that our encounter with Jesus is the real reason we are here, an encounter that can change everything.  And we need to learn how to be more explicit about this in teaching our children, sharing the good news with our neighbors, and living in the joy that comes with such a loving encounter.  Otherwise, it will just be the same old, same old, because no matter how beautiful the setting is, it can never really touch the depths of one’s heart.

Jesus has already come, long ago and far away in his birth in Bethlehem.  But he comes to us intimately here and now as well.  And when we wake up to this reality and let our lives be freed from sin because we are so intimately loved, we can wake up the whole world to the beauty, goodness, and truth that will bring a sinful and suffering world the joy of Jesus Christ himself.