(Homily given by Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz during his visit to Church of Our Lady and St Edward. Driffield on November 30, 2014)
Happy New Year!
Beloved brothers and sisters, this greeting is not a mistake, because today the Catholic Church begins a new liturgical year. She starts this year with Advent, which means waiting.
Human life is full of waiting. Parents wait for the birth of a child. A child waits to grow up and to go to school. Young people wait for the completion of their university courses, to find a job, couples to start a family, and so on. We wait patiently for the bus or train – and although we cannot see it, we believe that it will come. (In Minsk they always come!)
The common understanding of Advent is that it is a time of preparation for Christmas. While not denying the truth of this statement, we must also say that Advent is a period of waiting for the second coming of Christ. The first historical Advent took place more than two thousand years ago, when in Bethlehem the Savior of the world was born. Jesus, after completing the mission entrusted to him by His Father, ascended into heaven. However, He promised to come again at the end of time to judge the living and the dead. We do not know when it will happen. It is God’s secret. However, we should be prepared for the second coming of Christ. Jesus will be coming without warning, like a thief in the night. Who will keep watch to make sure that we will not be robbed and not lose anything? The same is true about our own lives. We should always keep watch and be ready for the second coming of Christ. Therefore, Advent is a time of preparation for a meeting with Jesus.
During the liturgical year we contemplate the mysteries of our salvation. In Advent St. Paul the Apostle calls us to wake up from sleep (Rom. 13:11-12), in order not to miss a meeting with Jesus. In such a way every Advent becomes a new opportunity in our spiritual life. It should be a time of inner transformation and of re-confirmation of our commitments to God.
Men and women wake up and be prepared! This is the leitmotif of Advent. If we fall asleep and are not prepared for this meeting with Jesus, we will find themselves in a situation similar to the people who lived during the flood in Noah’s time. They laughed at Noah when he was building the ark in a place where there was no sea. Noah had not slept, he watched out, and listened to God. In this way, he and his family were rescued, while others were killed by flood (cf. Ex 6, 9 – 8, 19).
Likewise, it can be the same in this present time. When a person separates themselves from God, the waves of sin will cast them down. Perhaps in our time many say, why waste time on prayer, retreats, spiritual reflections etc. Perhaps some laugh at the Church’s calling to pay attention to spiritual matters, and not succumb to the excesses and madness of the culture of the modern world full of shopping and consumerism, which are particularly visible before Christmas.
Such things create a very big spiritual problem. The influence of secularism is so huge that our stores, long before Advent, are filled with advertisements and incentives for Christmas, and all for only one purpose, to make money. Advent, rather than being a period of preparation for Christmas, becomes a marathon going through different stores and often meaningless shopping, which then becomes the new meaning of what it is to be a contemporary human being. As a result, such a situation leads to the fact that Advent instead of being a time of spiritual rebirth, becomes a time for ourselves, a time to satisfy our purely human selfishness and consumerism and pleasant ambitions.
In spite of such a dramatic situation we as Christians, should be like Noah. Following the example of his trust in God, we should have a strong faith. We need to be in Peter’s boat, which is the Church, and with a strong faith wait and expect the second coming of Christ. We have to be prepared to meet the incoming light of God and allow Him to illuminate the darkest corners of our lives.
Today we lit the first Advent candle and so began the four-week journey before the feast of Christmas, when we will celebrate the birth of light that has illuminated the world for two millennia. A lighted candle is a symbol of the light of Christ. In everyday life, we often remain cast in the darkness of our problems. The Church is very much concerned about the secularisation of our lives, the dangerous demographic situation, economic and financial problems, the persecution of Christians in various countries of the world, terrorist attacks and wars, and those unexpected and often catastrophic events such as the Ebola epidemic, for which there is no one effective medicine.
It seems that wherever we look, there is darkness. However, at the same time we have to remember, that two thousand years ago Jesus lit up the darkness of the world. We just need to open our hearts and allow Him to enlighten our lives. Therefore, we must begin our Advent journey with the hope that the light of Christ will enlighten our souls.
If we are in the dark, it is very important to head towards the light that penetrates the darkness and leads to a new life. We have to watch and look at the light, in order not to get lost. Today’s first reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah speaks of the end of our Advent journey, which is God’s mountain. It is the Church – the house of God. The vision of the prophet Isaiah must become a reality in our lives. We should strive to be at the top of the Lord’s mountain – the Church – to take part in a different kind of Advent devotion. How beautiful it is when people rush to a meeting with God, to allow their souls to be at peace. Advent traditions and devotions help us on this road and it is necessary to maintain and develop them.
Can Advent bring something new to our lives? In the complex situation of the modern world, there is a great necessity of divine intervention, to give new hope. As hope motivates students to study and pass exams, at the same time it can change our lives and makes them more human, and this hope calls for vigilance and a life lived according to God’s law, so that we can overcome the storms of sin in our lives.
The history of Israel, the story of Mary, St. Joseph, Elizabeth, John the Baptist and many other personalities of the Old and New Testaments, as well in the history of Christianity – is the history of God’s intervention and its adoption. God enters into our lives and says, “Here I am. What do you want me to do?” Saints let God enter into their lives and transform them. We should do the same.
During Advent we should let God make an intervention in our lives. It is not military intervention from which have to be afraid, but the intervention of the spirit. Are we going to give God the chance to reorganise our lives and steer it towards Jesus? Will we allow Him to penetrate our hearts so that we belong to Christ? The time to change our lives is coming and we have to use it properly.
The readings at Holy Mass today are a programme for Advent. They are God’s proposals for us. Therefore, let us make Advent the starting point of our spiritual rebirth, let us open the door of our hearts to Jesus, and let Him enter into their darkest corners, to purify us from sin and make us bearers of His promises.
In each period of the liturgical year, God gives us his special grace. So it is in Advent. If Advent becomes just a time of shopping, it will be not anything special but a reversal of his spirit and the destruction of the Christian tradition. This is another betrayal of Him. There is only one true Christmas gift, which cannot be purchased even in the best boutiques; it is the grace of Jesus. We get it for free. For this, we should only turn to Jesus. Therefore, the time of Advent should be a time for God, to receive the most valuable gift.
Jesus wept the last time He went to Jerusalem because the people of this city, which should be the city of God, did not recognise the time of His visitation (cf. Lk: 19, 41-42). In this way they missed Christ and His grace.
Are we ready to recognise the time of the coming of Jesus, who visits us in His word, in the sacraments and the Church’s activities? Everyone should answer to this question. We must not fail to recognize the time of His visitation, not fail to meet with Him and not take advantage of a new opportunity for our conversion. Using the words of St. John the Baptist, we should ask ourselves whether we are preparing the way for the coming of the Lord (cf. Lk: 3, 4) Advent is a time when Jesus will come to us if we allow Him to do so. If you have not already done so, let’s start now, don’t leave it til tomorrow, because tomorrow starts today!
In order to receive the grace that God offers us in Advent, we must put God in the first place in our lives. If God is not in the first place, we are consciously turning away from God’s grace that He Himself proposes. In such situations, we deliberately are trying to fill a spiritual vacuum with material things and pleasures, but not with the spirit of God, and as a result, we are never satisfied. We have to keep in mind that nothing and no one, except Jesus and His grace, are able to fill the vacuum of the human heart. Therefore, we must allow God to enter into the darkest corners of our lives, into the cracks that are known only to him and to us. We need to allow Jesus to thoroughly renew us again, and make us all the children of God and thus heal the wounds of our souls, so that there are no more cracks. For this purpose, it is necessary to allow him to show his love for us, a love which appeared in the Bethlehem manger. May Mary – Mother of Advent, who waits with us – help us to fulfill this programme of spiritual rebirth.
I am told that the meaning of Driffield is dry field. Do not let your souls become dry by secular and other non-spiritual influences. Let them be watered and nourished by the saving grace of God.