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First Sunday of Advent 2023 - Homily

Loyola Alumni Chaplain Rev. William Rickle, S.J., '70, offers the Loyola alumni community his homilies for Advent 2023. These homilies will be published the Saturday before the first three Sundays this Advent season. We invite you contact Fr. Rickle for reflection and discussion

Readings: Is 63:16-17, 19; 64:2-7; 1 Cor 1:3-9; Mk 13:33-37

Advent is a season of moods and senses, a time of watchful expectation. Advent is a time of grace in the Church’s life.  As a community we take stock of what it means to hope and to wait and to work and to love.  And together, as one people, we pray the prayer of the early Church, “Come, Lord Jesus!

Our liturgy simplifies, gets a little more sober.  There is an invitation to do a certain review of life that is not so much penitential as it is a profound recognition of our need for God to help us.  We need God to help us, in the words of the old Army advertisement, to "Be all we can be," or, more accurately to be all that God wants us to be.  This review of life, this watching, this anticipation is not possible without taking the time for prayer, for being alone with God in the silence.  And that, of course, makes the Church, when it is true to its roots, the most counter-cultural of all groups, amid a society in full-blown holiday shopping, eating, and drinking frenzy mode.

One of the surprises in the Advent season can be the realization that, as we anticipate the coming of God in the flesh, we anticipate the mission of the incarnation.  This can help us realign ourselves according to the desires of God for us.  As the first reading from Isaiah indicates, we may have wandered, and hardened our hearts.  This reading is really a petition to God to guide and protect his people, a theme we celebrated with such joy last Sunday in the Feast of Christ the King.  Then we reflected on just how Christ rules in our hearts and minds and through our hands.

Today's first reading ends with that beautiful, thoroughly biblical image of the clay in the hands of the potter: "Yet, O Lord, you are our father; we are the clay, and you are the potter; we are all the work of your hands." (Is. 64:7) And as you know, we are all works in progress.  Not a few of us might just as aptly be described as pieces of work. In both instances, we are in a process of change, and, we hope, of growth “in wisdom and age and favor before God,” as St. Luke says of the young boy Jesus.

The image of the clay in the hands of the potter evokes both the creation of Adam from the clay of the riverbank as well as the common earthen vessels which St. Paul in another place says we Christians are, earthen vessels fashioned to contain the richest of all treasures, Christ the Lord.  How do we allow ourselves to be supple and flexible enough to take on the shape that God wants to give us and, at the right time, be fired in the furnace to keep that shape so that we might serve our maker well?  That is not a simple question. 

For example, when am I being flexible, adaptive, and open to grace? On the other hand, when am I being wishy-washy, indecisive, and simply weak?  When am I being well tempered, doing what God intended me to do, serving in Christ's mission, even in the face of opposition or misunderstanding? On the other hand, when am I being stubborn, authoritarian, rigid, and hardhearted?  Only experience, prayerful attentiveness, honesty, and a lot of humility can yield the answers and the desire to follow God's lead in the matter. 

In the second reading St. Paul gives thanks for the community of new Christians in Corinth based on what God has already done in them and for them.  He will later in the same letter excoriate them for their inattention to the message of Christ.  They seemed to confuse the different spiritual and human gifts with reference to their source, which is God, and with reference to their purpose, which is the increase of love in the practical order of things.  They thought the gifts were their own and for their exclusive benefit.  Paul has a deep awareness that God's gift to us is what God requires of us.  That, in a word, is grace. Grace means we are gifted by God and responding to the gift at the same time.  We are given what we need -- to do what we need to do.  How do we live in the grace that comes from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ?

These are Advent questions.  They are questions we should ask of ourselves as individuals as we review our own life, the decisions we have made, and which lie before us.  We should also ask these questions of ourselves as a community of faith, gifted with spiritual and practical gifts as well, for the sake of the mission.  We look at the decisions we have made, and which lie before us.

Above all, the theme for this week is captured in the Gospel -- be watchful, attentive, on guard, lest we miss the coming of the Lord.   He comes in the way and in the time, we least expect him.

Questions for reflection and discussion

From the readings and the text above:

  1. What struck me as hopeful, affirming, and consoling? What, specifically, did I feel that was directed right at me?
  2. What did I see and feel as a challenge, a call to further reflection and action this week?
  3. Is there something here that I want to spend some more time in prayer over? An image, a feeling, a doubt, a memory, a hope, a fear?

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