HOMILY ADVENT WEEK 01 02 – Year II
The Healing Power of Advent:
Memorial of St. Francis Xavier
(Is 11:1-10; Ps 72; Lk 10:21-24)
Have you ever compared your spiritual growth to the process of raising poinsettias?
The readings today invite us to slow down this Advent, enter more deeply into contemplative silence, become more aware of our inner state, get to know God more intimately by experiencing the forgiveness and healing of Jesus as the Messiah, and reap the benefits of greater peace, joy and justice in our lives.
According to The Word Among Us, every year around this time, poinsettia growers are engaged in an elaborate regimen aimed at making their plants turn red at just the right time. By following a precise sequence of exposure to light and darkness, they “force” the poinsettia’s green leaves to turn red. The plants must be kept in sunlight during the day, then in total darkness at least twelve hours a night for an entire month. Even a brief exposure to light during this period can interrupt the reddening process. It’s a lot of work, but the results of these efforts are breathtaking.
This is a good illustration of the dynamics of the Advent season. For a whole month, the Church asks us to “alter our environment” so we can enter into a time of quiet waiting. It asks us to step back from our everyday routines so we can spend more time in prayerful reflection and introspection. And by changing our natural routine in this way, we get the chance to grow and “bloom.”
If we want to bloom this Christmas, now is the time to change up our ordinary way of doing things. We can try to unplug from the “bright lights” of all the regular activities keeping us busy all the time. We can set aside time for the “dormancy” of thoughtful solitude, sitting quietly with the Scriptures, and entering into times of more contemplative prayer, trying to hear God’s gentle voice in our hearts.
Making these kinds of changes will nourish our faith, even if we don’t notice it at first. Remember the poinsettia! It doesn’t know that it’s turning red. It just does so by responding to the changes in its environment. Similarly, as we modify our routine and our environment, take stock of our inner reality, poverty and weakness, become more aware of our need for forgiveness of our sin and healing of our sinfulness (our painful emotions and negative attitudes), and come to Jesus for his forgiveness and healing, our heart will respond to the changes and something will happen inside of us. Maybe we will become less likely to snap at someone who annoys us. We might catch ourselves smiling a little more. Or we might slowly realize something that tempted us in the past doesn’t have as much power over us anymore.
The first reading today speaks of faith in a shoot that shall come out of the stump of Jesse, upon whom the spirit of the Lord shall rest with all the gifts of that spirit – and that one we know is Jesus the Christ. His reign will be characterized by peace and serenity. Peace is a sure gift of the Holy Spirit, not just a passing emotion like happiness, and one we can claim as followers of Jesus.
The psalm assures us that in the day of this shoot of Jesse, justice and righteousness shall reign. All this connects with St. Paul who in Chapter 14 of his letter to the Romans states that the kingdom of heaven is not a matter of eating or drinking, but the peace, joy and justice of the Holy Spirit. Justice is also a work of the Holy Spirit. I believe that justice is first of all a right relationship with God, having been forgiven and healed by the Holy Spirit. It is also a right relationship with all the people in our lives, with mutual forgiveness wherever needed and possible. It is also a right relationship with ourselves – having forgiven ourselves of our past mistakes, and having accepted ourselves as we are. Finally, it is a right relationship with all of God’s creation, striving always to care for mother earth and the ecology any way we can.
Jesus in the gospel rejoices in the Holy Spirit when the disciples return from their mission filled with joy at all that has been worked through them by that same Spirit. Joy is also a gift of the Holy Spirit, and much more than a passing emotion. Joy is perhaps the most genuine and sure sign of being a disciple of Jesus.
Jesus also rejoices that God reveals God’s self to the lowly, humble, little ones of this world, to mere children, and not the clever and powerful. That is why it is so important to take time to be honest with ourselves and face our inner reality, accept that inner reality, and deal with the inner reality. As Richard Rohr likes to say, “You are who you are who you are – what are you afraid of?”
Someone who perhaps more than any other person understands this teaching of Jesus about God working best through the weak, lowly and poor is the late Jean Vanier, who writes, “The weak and the poor are for us a source of unity. Jesus came into the world to change and transform society from a ‘pyramid’ in which the strong and clever dominate at the top, into a ‘body’ where each member of society has a place, is respected and is important.”
Today the Church invites us to honor St. Francis Xavier. Francis was born in 1506 in Navarre, Spain. He met St Ignatius Loyola at the University of Paris, and was one of the first members of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits). Francis spent many years working as a missionary with the peoples of Goa, Southeast Asia and Japan. He had excellent organizational skills: the communities he established continued to flourish long after his departure. Francis died of fever while on his way from Goa to China, in 1551. He was canonized in 1602 and is a patron of all foreign missions.
The Eucharist we share in now is another experience of Jesus in Word and Sacrament, empowering us to deal with our own demons, be filled with God’s love, and to become more effective disciples ourselves.
So, to experience the healing power of this Advent, let us slow down, enter more deeply into contemplative silence, become more aware of our inner state, get to know God more intimately by experiencing the forgiveness and healing of Jesus as the Messiah, and reap the benefits of greater peace, joy and justice in our lives.