HOMILY ADVENT WEEK 01 06 – Year II
Isaiah’s Offering of Hope and Healing:
Memorial of St. Ambrose
(Is 30:19-26; Ps 147; Mt 9:35 – 10:8)
Are you shocked at the number of drug-related deaths due to the opioid crisis in our society today? Could that be an indication of a deeper spiritual malaise, a lost-ness of the soul?
Jesus, in the readings today, mandates us to be shepherds like him, disciples bearing hope to a despairing world by doing what he did – teaching, proclaiming good news, bringing healing to the lost and in the process fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah in the first reading.
In that reading, Isaiah addresses a people who were also lost – in exile, oppressed, enslaved, downtrodden, beaten down and without hope. Inspired by the Spirit of the living God, Isaiah envisions a day when they will be liberated, set free from oppression, and brought back to their homeland. We know that historically, the people in exile were finally allowed to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple and their lives, so on one level his prophecy came true.
A closer look at that reading, however, opens up a broader horizon than just a physical return to what was before. Their “eyes will see the teacher.” They will “hear the teacher’s voice.” The “light of the moon will be like the sun, and the light of the sun sevenfold.” The Lord will “bind up the injuries of God’s people and heal their wounds.” Does this not sound like a new world order, a renewed creation, almost a utopia that God will somehow bring about?
Turning to the gospel, we see precisely that deeper level of the prophecy of Isaiah being fulfilled in the person of Jesus. As a humble messiah, he goes about the hill country of Galilee, teaching in the synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and illness.
After observing that the harvest is ready but the labourers few, Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority to do what he was doing, teaching, proclaiming and healing. They were mandated to shepherd God’s people in Jesus’ name, and to proclaim the good news. So are we, by our baptism into Jesus Body, the Church. What is that good news of the kingdom that we are to proclaim?
It is the fact that God loved God’s people so much that God sent God’s own Son to become totally one of us, to take on our wounded and sinful nature. It is to announce that Jesus came to redeem us and to sanctify us, to forgive us and to heal us. It is to announce that we have been set free from the tyranny of sin, the prison of our painful emotions like anger and bitterness, fear and anxiety; our negative attitudes like false pride, stubborn self-righteousness; our addictions to false gods of money, fame and power, and above all, to that hopelessness that leads so many to medicate their pain with drugs or other addictive activity. It is the hope of being able to deal with and heal our family of origin issues so that we are no longer controlled by them, and to come back to our true selves without any need for pretense or wearing masks. It is the possibility of actually living within the reign of God, experiencing peace, joy and deep purpose for our lives, here and now. In short, it is to be rooted in faith, living in hope and growing in love.
The teaching aspect of Jesus’ ministry means for us, constantly learning more and more of the depth of the Father’s love for us, and then passing that on to others as best we can, sharing our spiritual journey with them. The healing aspect of Jesus’ ministry means being present, compassionate, aware of the deeper needs of others and doing what we can to journey with them. For me, it means sharing some of my own healing journey, often within the context of the healing power of the 12 Step program. That program, and our faith, is centered on the twin powerful pillars of forgiveness and healing.
In today’s gospel Jesus also instructs us to pray for laborers for the harvest, for disciples to do the work of evangelization. We need to organize our lives around evangelization. Everything we do ought to be related somehow to it. This doesn’t mean that we all have to become professional evangelizers. Remember, we can evangelize by the moral quality of our life. But it does mean that nothing in our lives ought to be more important than announcing the victory of Jesus.
An example for us is St. Ambrose whom we honor today. He was born into aristocracy in Trier Germany about 340 A.D., and served the powerful Roman Empire. His is quite an unusual story. As governor, he intervened in a dispute over the election of the bishop of Milan. Although he was only a catechumen, the laity were so impressed by his acumen and trustworthiness that they elected him as bishop. He hesitated at first, but later was baptized and ordained. Ambrose became a remarkable preacher and teacher of the faith. His most famous student was Augustine of Hippo, whom he baptized. Ambrose died in 397. In 1298, he was declared one of the four great Doctors of the Latin Church (with Jerome, Augustine and Gregory I).
The Eucharist is our greatest prayer that Jesus taught us to do in memory of him. It is also our one great act of fidelity. For over two thousand years, the church has unfailingly fulfilled the command of Jesus, honoring and remembering him through the Eucharist.
May our celebration strengthen our faith in Jesus as risen Lord, help us proclaim the good news of the kingdom, and be a source of hope and healing for all we meet, as shepherds following in the footsteps of Jesus, and of Isaiah.