Today is the first week of the new liturgical year. There are three and we are entering the third, year C. The main Gospel we will focus on this year is Luke. It is the third of the Gospel and the third written.
The focus of Advent is to prepare for the second coming of Jesus as we look forward to celebrating the first coming of Jesus at his incarnation. Obviously, we call that day Christmas.
There is an interesting phrase in today’s Gospel reading and I think it should be something for us to focus on. Notice how Jesus says: beware that your hearts do not become drowsy through drunkenness, carousing and the anxieties of life.
What does that mean? It means do not get lost in the hedonism of the time. Do not get lost in the passions and the pleasures of the world. Now, I must add here something really important. We are Catholics. Catholics heed well the teachings of St. Augustine—all things in moderation. We know some of our Christian brothers take this so seriously they prohibit things like drinking and dancing and you all know that is not Catholic. We on the other hand believe in forms of mortification but we also believe that celebration has its place as well. As Ecclesiastes three teaches there is a time to mourn and a time to dance.
One great difference between us and some Christians of our history here in the United States is that it was illegal to celebrate Christmas in Boston until 1868. The Puritans rejected the common Catholic practices of Christmas.
Catholics believe in all things in moderation. So we do believe in such things as drinking in moderation and other forms of celebration in moderation. However, we also believe that when our life gets centered on such things, as Jesus warns, it happens to the exclusion of the other important issues. One of the first to be cut from our life is our lifeline to Jesus which is prayer.
We know that morality is part of our Christian journey so these words are to be expected. There is another word there that is not so expected. Jesus also warns against the anxieties of life. He, literally, puts them in the same category as a cause to the loss of your salvation. This is not the only place he does it. In fact, he brings it up other times as well including the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew and in the Parable of the Sower.
He makes it clear that if you want to live a life free of celebration you are just as much in danger of losing your salvation if you succumb to the worries of life.
You will find this in other places as well. St. Paul demands that we dismiss all the anxieties from our minds. St. Peter calls us to cast our cares upon the Lord. Padre Pio called us to pray, hope and never worry. St. Teresa of Avila told us to not let anything disturb us the Lord is near. The Psalmist tells us to “Be Still and know that He is God” (46:10). St James and St. Rose call us to rejoice when we have difficulties for they will bring us closer to Christ.
So, our worries are just as dangerous to our faith as getting lost in drunkenness and carousing.
How do we deal with our worries? We bring them to prayer. We address them with the Lord in prayer. We may need to make a special trip to the chapel and speak to the Lord about them. Do that, trust that, and let the Lord help you through them.
We may beg the Lord to take the worries away and he may, but what he may do is bring you through them so that you learn something you could not learn anywhere else.
As I did my research for today’s homily, I found a fascinating and even for me a life-changing passage. It was not in the Bible but in the Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas. He asks the rather benign sounding question Why didn’t Jesus write anything down. Why did he not have a secretary in one of the Apostles who made sure that every word he wrote was stored for all posterity? Every time someone questioned his teaching both the question and answer would be written down and this whole volume of work could be consulted throughout history. Why does not such a body of his teachings exist? The answer is fascinating from St. Thomas Aquinas in the thirteenth-century building on the teachings of St. Augustine nine hundred years earlier.
The answer is if Jesus’ words were written down they would be set in stone and remain a superficial understanding of Jesus. This is what they both teach.
By not writing down his words, Jesus enables us in all situations to do as I just said: Bring all your issues, prayers, questions to the Lord in prayer and bring that experience with you to the community worship which is the Mass.
This is all what it means. If you hold on to your anxieties and choose only to bring the Lord into things that are going well, you will never encounter him beyond a superficial relationship. However, he wants us to bring all to Him so that he can teach us through all of it. We cannot look up most of our answers, we need to pray over them as well as seek our own route through him guided by prayer. We listen to the admonition from St. Augustine: “Act as if everything relied on you; pray as if everything relies on God.” Those two elements will help you to grow in the Lord.
We need this today powerfully. You can look at the difficulties in our country today, the division, the split. The anxiety. We also can look at those forces in various media trying to control and manipulate us. They tell us what to believe about the opposing party. They tell us how to think. However, what we need to be is independent thinkers who draw their strength on the source of all wisdom. This is what we have been baptized to do in our world today.
If we get lost in celebration that is not moderation, if we get lost in worldly anxiety, we will not encounter Christ beyond the superficial if at all. Like so many others we will be easily manipulated by political forces and even religious forces seeking our allegiance to their political movements. We will not be the prophets Christ called us to be but the robotic slaves to political parties and movements.
This first Sunday of Lent, let us resolve to truly deepen our prayer and submit to where Christ He is leading us over the next year. Let us not get lost in the anxieties of life, but the truth of Christ and grow into the prophets he called us to be as Catholics at our respective Baptism.