Second Sunday in Advent

December 4, 2016

Father Shawn Hughes


Disclaimer: Homilies are never the creative act of one person.  So as we begin to post these homilies on our website I would like to state first and foremost that there will be nothing original in the following. My homilies are a result of my prayer, reading and study as it pertains to the particular gospel of the week.  Thus, I beg, borrow and steal from the wisdom of those who have gone before me and together with the Holy Spirit acting in my own prayer considering the needs of our particular parish community here at St. Mary’s, a homily appears by the weekend. If there is something that edifies you I can take no credit for it.  ‘Tis the result of the work of the Holy Spirit and those from whom I have gleaned wisdom over time.  If there is something that you might wish to discuss I am always available and would welcome any opportunity to speak about the Scriptures.  

God bless you.

Father Shawn

During Advent the Church proposes the figure of John the Baptist for our meditation.  John humbly identifies himself simply as “the voice”…as…“the voice of one crying in the wilderness;…crying…prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.”  “The coming of Christ, the coming of the Messiah was preceded by prophets who announced his arrival from afar. Like heralds who go ahead and announce the arrival of a great king.  John is the dividing line between the Old and the New Testaments.  He is the last of the prophets of the Old Testament and the announcer of completely new times. John the Baptist’s whole vocation, his mission… his whole purpose is to prepare,…to prepare for Jesus, a people capable of receiving the Kingdom of God.  John embodies what all apostolate is about: forgetting oneself and fostering a true concern for others.  Many came to know Jesus through John the Baptist’s apostolic work.


John lived his God-given vocation.  Each of us, in our own place and circumstances, has a God-given vocation.  Many great things depend on whether you and I live our lives as God wants not selfishly but as God wants. In contemplating John the Baptist’s mission we need to ask ourselves: Do I bring the people around me closer to God?  Do I give good example in the way I carry out my work, in my family circle, in my social relations?  Do I speak about God to my colleagues or fellow-students?  Am I self-sacrificing and generous with my time, my talent and even my treasure when I am called upon to be?


Jesus says of John: “Truly I say to you, among those born of women there has risen no one greater than John the Baptist.” (Matt 11:11) His faith was known through his words and his deeds.  He was the precursor.  We are witnesses to what Jesus came to do…at this point of preparation in Advent…we need to ask what sort of witnesses are we?  What is our Christian testimony like among those with whom we work?  What is our Christian testimony like among our families?  Is it strong enough to convince those who do not yet believe in Jesus?  Is it strong enough to convince those who do not yet love the Lord?  Is it strong enough to convince those who have mistaken ideas about Him?


Like John the Baptist we are called to bear witness and at the same time we have to show others the way.  “To be Christ’s witnesses implies first and foremost that we should try to live our lives according to his teaching, that we should struggle to make our actions remind others of Jesus and his most lovable personality.  We have to act in such a way that others will be able to say, when they meet us:  This person is a Christian, because he/she does not hate, because he or she is willing to strive to understand, because he /she is not a fanatic, because he/she is willing to make sacrifices, because he / she shows that they are a person of peace, that he/she knows how to love.” (St. J. M. Escriva, Christ is Passing By, p. 122)


John the Baptist brought many who were far away or indifferent to God.  God sent John to prepare the people …To bring them to Jesus.  How can we be John the Baptists preparing the way of the Lord?


We have just finished our first Alpha course…seventy of the eighty plus who signed up consistently came to the 10 sessions.  There was a powerful outpouring of the Holy Spirit.  Those who persevered, those who actually gave the course a chance…strong enough to come for more than a couple of sessions had many positive comments…They said they found it a very comfortable opportunity to explore the faith…to ask questions… and not be criticized.  Many sensitive topics were discussed and each small group became a small family…so much so that two people have offered their homes so that two groups are going to continue to meet regularly to continue to explore the Faith.  Many said they felt they had found a true community and that they had searched and searched and now they had finally found a home where they were welcomed and found a real loving supportive community.  They said they had seen people for years at Mass who they didn’t know and now they had developed strong friendships feeling very connected to others who wanted to know the Lord.  On the end-of-course evaluations many said the course gave them interior peace, they felt strengthened in their faith and felt a new connection, a new purpose in life…and most importantly many reported that they had discovered a personal experience with God through Jesus.


Father Raniero Cantalamessa, the preacher to the papal household since 1980,  one of the key presenters in the DVD’s,  says: “One of the advantages of Alpha is that it focuses on the kerygma which means the initial proclamation, the first proclamation of the gospel…that is what Jesus really preached.  In the early church there was a clear distinction between kerygma and catechesis.  The kerygma, the initial proclamation, is the starting point of the faith.  Catechesis, the teaching, had to form the faith, but faith in itself blossoms only by hearing the kerygma, the initial proclamation. ”


Alpha presents that initial proclamation.  Many of those on the course, life-long Catholics, were very challenged by what was presented because they had taken a lot of the initial proclamation for granted.


If you weren’t part of the 70 who completed this past course…I’d like to encourage you to prayerfully consider joining Alpha for the January course beginning on January 18th.  6 to 9 pm.  We will have a nice meal together, watch a DVD and break into small discussion groups that are led by a trained leader.  Alpha is meant to introduce people to the initial proclamation.  It is for people who find it hard to believe…who have big questions…and for those who don’t believe at all…it can be the entry or re-entry gate to the Church.  If you have friends, colleagues, family members who no longer come…tell them they should give Alpha a try.  It helps if you have tried it…or maybe volunteer to take it with them.  Alpha is particularly attracting many young people who are asking the question, “Is there more to life than this?”


I have heard many criticize Alpha saying it is not Catholic.  There is nothing in Alpha that we as Catholics do not agree with. Nothing.   Admittedly, Alpha is not the complete presentation of the initial proclamation, and we will be offering the Catholic follow up to Alpha called Catholicism 201 on Thursdays, starting January 19th, also beginning with a meal, followed by a DVD presented by Father James Mallon, you’ll remember he gave us an Advent Mission here two years ago…and after Father Mallon’s DVD teaching we end the evening with small group discussions.  I would like to invite you to take it as well.


To those who say it is not Catholic, I’d like to share with you what Catholic Leaders say about Alpha?  Cardinal Marc Ouellet, former Archbishop of Québec City and now Prefect of the Congregation of Bishops in Rome said that “Alpha brings people closer and helps them to find that power which unites.  The Alpha experience is not only a means through which one finds true life, but also a way to share the good news of the Living Christ.”


Cardinal Gérald Lacroix, the present Archbishop of Québec City says that he “has had the privilege of participating in various Alphas in Quebec and has witnessed how lives are changed and how the participants are touched by the teachings, witnessing, and fellowship experienced during the course.  The method is simple yet very effective.  Small groups are definitely a key to the success of this tool of New Evangelization.”


Cardinal Christoph Schonborn, the Archbishop of Vienna, Austria and principal editor of the Catechism of the Catholic Church says: “Alpha is for meeting Jesus.  What I like in all that I have seen and heard about Alpha is the simplicity.  For me, the Christian life has something to do with simplicity, friendship, closeness and joy. that’s what I feel about Alpha and I think that’s a sign that it works and that it’s from the Lord.”


Like John the Baptist we are called to bear witness and at the same time we have to show others the way. Alpha is designed primarily for those with no experience of the Church, which is why Alpha keeps it simple.  It also means that anyone can benefit from Alpha, because no assumptions are made about a persons’ level of knowledge, understanding or engagement with Christianity.


In the words of Bishop Michael Byrnes, an auxiliary bishop of the Catholic Archdiocese of Detroit: “Alpha is meant to reach those who have never heard of Jesus.  It is time for us to put out into the deep, and to cast our nets further out, that we might bring those farthest from Jesus.”


We can do this here at St. Mary’s…reach out to those who do not come…it means one simple invitation to those you know who do not come…friends, family, colleagues at work, skeptics whoever…Simply say:  “You should take the ALPHA course at St. Mary’s…be really courageous and say…I’ll go with you!”  Today’s Scriptures call us to be the new voices crying in the wilderness…preparing the way of the Lord…sharing the Good News…through simple invitation and warm hospitality.