What does it mean to be holy? How does a person become holy? Today we seek holiness. Today this is done by looking at the life of Saint Anthony, Abbot. This is not Saint Anthony of Padua, the well known saint for lost objects, but a hermit from the early Church who was known for his holiness. His pathway to holiness might seem extreme to us today, as he went out into the desert for silence and solitude. He lived alone. That said, he often traveled to find others who were holy, and when successful, he sought to discover what they did to be holy. He sought to imitate their actions, their asceticism, and indeed their attitudes in his own quest for holiness. It can be quite difficult today to find silence and solitude in the midst of those duties as parents, as those who care for children and who work for a living. It can even be difficult for those engaged in full time ministry. But, finding some way to block out those things that take away from our faith is important if we are to grow closer to God and become holy. Let us ask God to help us to embrace the silence.
With all of the hustle and bustle of this time of year, and the tremendous noise of the recently finished national elections, now is the time to “tend the fire” inside of us. Advent is a wonderful time for each of us to tend the fire of our faith so that we might more clearly see the presence of God in our hearts.
Readings for Sunday, November 27, 2016 at http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/112716.cfm.
It is easy to forget that so much of our relationship with God is not dependent upon us. All we need to do is to place ourselves in the presence of God. By doing so, we both lose those sins and shortcomings that keep us from being the person God has created us to be, and we are able to be sent forth for the mission that God gives to only us. As we move into the season of Lent this Wednesday, let us place ourselves in God’s presence to receive the powerful and life-changing love of God.
The American spirit seems to like things that are made strong and tough. Trucks are advertised this way, a popular vehicle in our country. People are often encouraged to be strong in the face of adversity. Little boys are wrongly told not to cry, to “toughen up”, in the face of difficulty. We are told there is “no crying” in any number of things.
But what is it that makes someone truly strong? Is it the false elements I just mentioned? Is it the house built on rock that Jesus uses as an example in the gospels? And how is it we reconcile this idea of strength with Saint Paul who says that when he is weak, it is then he is strong? When we hear the words in today’s first reading, “Be Strong, Fear Not!” what exactly does that mean, and how and in what ways is such a phrase intended for you and me?
As is often the case, as we explore this idea of strength, the world gets turned upside down a little bit. Bold words are expressed to those in the time of Isaiah, to be strong, because they feel anything but strong at the moment. The words are meant as an encouragement, because when they consider their current situation, they do not feel very strong. Weak knees, feeble hands are the way the people are described.
Do you like surprises? I suppose a lot depends upon what type of surprise it is. Winning the lottery might be a surprise we enjoy, notice that we are receiving an audit from the IRS, not so much. Most surprises are not so dramatic. But surprise is a part of our lives. We simply cannot plan for each moment of the day, because life is, by definition, unpredictable.
When we consider faith, it too can create surprises. We may become aware of God’s presence at unpredictable times. We may discover that even though we thought our vocation a “settled” matter, God continues to call us in unpredictable ways. I found this to be true when I moved from a feeling of certainty about being ordained a diocesan priest only to feel further called to life as a Dominican. God’s call is constant in its desire to help us to be led more and more deeply in relationship with Jesus.
But when it comes to the biggest surprise, the Day of the Lord when Christ will return, we need not be surprised. Why? Because as baptized Christians, we are children of the light. God has enlightened us so that we can realize that we are always immersed in the presence and love of God. It does not “catch us off guard” because we have available this life-changing relationship with God.
There is an expression, it is what is on the inside that counts. There are times when we say that a book cannot be judged by its cover. There is a thought that for it to be possible to get to what is important, we need to get to the heart of the matter. Or, we need to look deep inside to reflect upon the most significant aspects of life. These expressions point out to us that we need to look past appearances on the outside to see what is real on the inside.
This is the message Moses delivers in the first reading today. He stresses to the people the closeness of God, and the importance of the heart in understanding the way of life to which God calls us. For it is there where God dwells. “For what great nation is there that has gods so close to it as the LORD, our God, is to us whenever we call upon him?”
But for me, and perhaps for you, the question becomes, how aware am I of this closeness of God? Do I take the time to look deep within, or am I too busy with tasks and actions to seek to discover the presence of God in my life, or to see how God is trying to move my heart closer to the life giving relationship that fulfills?
I do not know about you, but I find it difficult sometimes to slow down from the busy tasks that seem to be important. In fact, sometimes they are important. But sometimes I become surprised when I realize how quickly time has passed, and how much I have missed when I stop to think of all of the things I miss as a result. Even though I think I am about doing good things, too often I am tempted to be so busy that I lose sight of the priorities of the things I should really pay attention to in my own life. I work and work and work only to learn that I have missed out on the very things that are really important.
I suspect all of us have had the occasion to have our eyes tested for vision and other things. It is important, because being able to see clearly is important. Since I have, on both sides of my family, a history of Glaucoma in the family, I get a battery of such tests each year. While they are not difficult or painful tests, they do serve as a reminder of how precious the gift of sight is, and how many threats there can be to seeing well. Having had to use reading glasses for the past couple of years, I am reminded even more often of the importance of being able to see clearly.
Today’s readings show the importance of seeing clearly in another way. That is, just as we may need glasses to see clearly, at the same time, to gain understanding it matters how we see something. Things may not be what they appear if we do not see something clearly. Just as a person may need glasses or contacts to make things visible, so too we learn today that a person needs wisdom to see things clearly.
The “glasses” of faith are used when we engage Wisdom. The definition I have always found helpful for wisdom is this: wisdom is seeing as God sees. The reason I like this definition is that so much of what we do and know in life only really makes sense when we consider how God views things. If we do not consider that human beings are made in God’s image and likeness, it becomes easy to throw them away.
There have been a few times in my life where I felt like the object of persecution. Certainly not the type of persecution in the first reading or especially in the parable told in today’s gospel, but a persecution nonetheless. It can be hard to be mocked, or ridiculed or worse for doing the right thing. To be able to do the right thing in the face of harm is courage. And it is courage we observe in those from the gospel seeking out a rightful share of grapes, or in Tobit burying the dead.
“Beloved, if God so loved us, we also must love one another.” Today’s second reading tells us how important it is to love. Our relationship with God began out of love, as God first loved us. And we are reminded today of importance of the sharing of love. For when God creates, it is a sign to us of his powerful love. Love must be shared. It is against the very nature of God to be selfish, to keep love to himself. This is why he creates. Because when he does so, love is shared.
I like sheep. They are cute. They seem pretty docile to me, and they look soft and huggable. It does not seem that they could be mean. It is not usually the case that we think of “killer sheep”. I suppose they have their moments, sheep, but I prefer not to think about that. I would rather keep before me the gentle image of the “counting sheep” that are popular in the Serta Commercials.
And I have seen sheep up close. I have a friend who used to be a shepherd. They do know the voice of the shepherd. They are “herd animals” ready to travel together, sometimes following the sheep who does not always know where it is going. It gets lost. It does not like to be alone. It needs a shepherd. And the dedication of the shepherd makes all of the difference. Does the shepherd care about the sheep, or are they just drawing a paycheck?