Sunday Word

Advent: A time of transformation

Father Alfredo Hernández
Sunday, Dec. 8, Second Sunday of Advent
Is 11:1-10; Ps 72:1-2, 23-26; Rom 15:4-9; Mt 3:1-12

What does conversion mean to us? Saint John the Baptist, a key figure for the second Sunday of Advent, cause his listeners and us as well to conversion, so a total change of life. We always read about him in the Gospel for this Sunday, this year from Matthew. John the Baptist announces the coming of one who will “baptize you in the Holy Spirit and in fire.” John goes on to say of the one who is to come: “His winnowing fan is in his hand. He will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” This powerful prophecy begs the question of whether we willing to give such power to Jesus? Do we really believe that he can “baptize us in the Holy Spirit and in fire”?

A response to these questions will determine whether in this Advent we will allow Jesus the space to work in our lives. Our responses will determine if we permit the Holy Spirit to transform us, to be the new creatures that God wants us to be, or whether this Advent and this Christmas will be lukewarm. What God wants for us is real conversion, conversion to the fullness of life which is his will for us. We are called to believe that God truly can transform our lives.

Consider the images that we will hear from Isaiah this Sunday: “Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; the calf and the young lion shall browse together, with a little child to guide them.” We could take this prophecy as an indication that all of the savage animals would be domesticated, as if they were being weekend. This would be a false reading however.

The transformation that Jesus wants to bring about in us and in the world is not for us to be less than what we are, but that we may be fully what we are called to be. If the wolf will live with a lamb, it will be as a wolf and not as a puppy. If Christ enters into our lives, he does not make us less than we are or want to be, but more than we could imagine.

In his homily for the inauguration of his ministry as Bishop of Rome, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI recalled the words that his predecessor, Saint John Paul II, repeated so many times: “Be not afraid.”

Pope Benedict said: “Are we not all afraid in some way? If we let Christ enter fully into our lives, if we open ourselves totally to him, are we not afraid that he might take something away from us? Are we not perhaps afraid to give up something significant, something unique, something that makes life so beautiful? Do we not then risk ending up diminished and deprived of our freedom? And once again the Pope (referring to John Paul II) said: no! If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great. No! Only in this friendship of the doors of life opened wide.” Only in this friendship is the great potential of human existence truly revealed. Only in this friendship do we experience beauty and liberation.”

This Advent, may we allow Christ to enter into our lives, to give us the true freedom that the world cannot give, so that we may be who we are really called to be. Experiencing real conversion, may we, in the words of St. Paul live “for the glory of God.”

Father Alfredo Hernández is Vice Rector and Academic Dean of St. Vincent de Pail Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach.

Open hearts to fulfillment of God’s promises

Father Alfredo Hernández
Sunday, Dec. 1, First Sunday of Advent
Is 2:1-5; Ps 122: 1-9; Rom 13:11-14; Mt 24:37-44

I remember watching the news with a friend in the 1980s, and we’d occasionally look at each other and say: “The world is going to hell in a handbasket!”

Three decades and change later, there is much that is happening in the world, in our country, and in the Church that can lead to the conviction that our worst fears had already come to pass. But as we enter the season of Advent and this new liturgical year, the Christian answer must always be one of hope. Our readings today, while they also call us to conversion, first of all invite us to hope.

“The days are coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise….” Through the prophet Isaiah God promises the People of Israel to fulfill His promises to them, and we Christians know that it is in Christ that all blessings God has promised are given. What promises has God made to us, the brothers and sisters of his Son, Jesus Christ? In what ways do we await the fulfillment of the promise of peace: “They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks”? Advent assures us that, even when it seems impossible, God will share his peace with us.

What gets in the way of our being open to the gifts with which the Lord wants to shower us? St. Paul tells us that we need to “awake from sleep.” We look at the world around us, not with fearful or judging hearts, but being very much aware of the ways we have accommodated ourselves to its values. We look at our own lives and acknowledge how we have become, to use a word Pope Francis often uses, worldly. St. Paul’s charge to the Christians of Rome is still valid for us today: “Let us then throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.” If we don’t want to fall prey to the ways in which the world is corrupt, then the challenge is to love differently than the world. It is not easy, but the hope of Advent tells us it is possible.

Concretely, Advent calls us to change, even when tough.

It is easy to read Paul’s list of sins that need to be put aside and be very much aware of how that list challenges others.

The tough thing is to read that list for ourselves. What are the areas of my life where the Lord is drawing me to conversion this Advent, so that I will be ready and awake to receive the gift he promises me, the gift of his Son?

The moral life involves allowing Christ to live in us, in a sense wearing our Christmas garment, the garment that is Christ himself, throughout the Advent season: “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the desires of the flesh.” Do we have enough hope to try it on?

In the Gospel, Jesus Himself continues with the image of wakefulness and makes some suggestions for living in the light: “Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life, and that day catch you by surprise like a trap.” The ultimate act of hope, in a confused time, is to keep our eyes set on the prize.

For us, Advent is always a time to become readier each day for our definitive goal, the life of heaven. It is that readiness to which Jesus calls us: “So too, you also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.”

As we prepare for Christmas 2019, I invite you to be aware of what obstacles to receiving Jesus with joy there are in your life and in the life of your family. What awaits us is not a bitter future, but perfect joy with the Lord. The Psalmist expressed it so beautiful long ago: “I rejoiced because they said to me, ‘We will go up to the house of the LORD.’ And now we have set foot within your gates, O Jerusalem.” Our goal is to live in the house of the Lord.

This Advent, may we open our hearts to the fulfillment of all of God’s promises, for the day is coming indeed! Lord, fill our hearts with hope this Advent.

Father Alfredo Hernández is Vice Rector and Academic Dean of St. Vincent de Pail Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach.

The story of Ignatius and his journey to faith

Father David Scotchie
Sunday, Nov. 24, The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe
2 Sm 5:1-3; Ps 122:1-5; Col 1:12-20; Lk 23:35-43

Ignatius found himself facing surrender or death. The Spaniards in May of 1521 were defending the fortress of the town of Pamplona against the French. As the Spaniards were enormously outnumbered, the commander wanted to surrender. Ignatius convinced him to fight on, if not for victory, for the honor of Spain. Then a cannon ball crashed into Ignatius. One leg was wounded and the other leg broken. The victorious French soldiers so admired his courage that, rather than capturing him, they brought him to his castle of Loyola where he could heal.

The doctors had to break his leg and reset it. Ignatius endured the operation without anesthesia. Despite their efforts, he grew worse. He was told to prepare for death. Only death was not ready for Ignatius and he recovered. Although his leg healed, the bone protruded below the knee. Ignatius could not imagine being unable to wear the long, tight-fitting boots and hose of the courtier. He had the doctors re-break and reset his leg. Once again, he endured the surgery without anesthesia. When he finally healed, one leg remained shorter than the other. For the remainder of his life, Ignatius walked with a limp.

The long recuperation was dull. Unable to find any romance novels to pass the time, Ignatius read the only two books available, a book on the life of Christ and a book on the saints. To his surprise, the more he read, the more he considered the saints worth imitating. He dreamed of emulating their exploits in fasting, pilgrimages, and penance.

Ignatius noticed that after reading and thinking of the saints and Christ he felt peace and joy. Meanwhile, after thinking of a certain noble lady whose love he imagined winning through battlefield glory, he felt restless and unsatisfied. His feelings were leading him to a new way of life.

By the time he had recovered from his wounds, he had made up his mind. He set aside his old desires of romance and worldly conquests. He still wanted glory. Only it would not be glory for himself. He would serve for the glory of God. He would become a soldier for Christ.

He traveled on donkey to the Benedictine shrine of Our Lady of Montserrat. There he made a general confession in writing. Following the code of chivalry, he knelt all night in vigil before Our Lady’s altar. He left his sword and knife at the altar, gave away all his fine clothes to a poor man, and dressed in rough clothes with sandals and a staff. His old life was over. His new life, thanks to a leg-shattering cannonball, had begun.

Ignatius dedicated his life to serve a new king. Not the Spanish king on a throne, but the king who had knelt down to wash the feet of his disciples. This King of the Jews, wearing a crown of thorns and hanging on the cross, had returned mockery with mercy on the criminal, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Lk 23:43). Ignatius’ king takes away the world’s lust, greed, envy, pride, despair, selfishness, hunger, poverty, and war. This king makes peace by the blood of his cross.
Ignatius went on to found the Society of Jesus. Better known as the Jesuits, it is a fellowship of men dedicated to the glory of God. Inspired by the spirituality of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the Jesuits have established countless missions, universities, and retreat centers.

You do not have to travel to the 16th century shrine of Our Lady of Montserrat to give glory to God. When you are home alone, get a crucifix. Go over to the kitchen table. Put your wallet, car keys, house key, cell phone, family photo on the table. Kneel down. Hold onto the crucifix. Hold onto the one who holds heaven and earth, our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe.

Say, “Lord, I’m tired of waiting, tired of wasting time, wondering what it is all about, fighting battles. I turn my car keys, house keys, family, health, plans, regrets, joys, sorrows and cell phone over to your care. I trust you with everything dear to me. I put them in your service for your kingdom where you live and reign today, tomorrow, world without end. Amen.”

Father Scotchie is the pastor of Most Precious Blood Parish in Oviedo. He is the co-author of “Rites of Passage: Preaching Baptisms, Weddings, and Funerals.”

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