Thursday, December 6, 2012

Homily for First Sunday of Advent

I love the season of Advent and preparing for Christmas. I love driving around and seeing Christmas lights. This past Tuesday I saw a Christmas tree through someone’s dorm window in Binneweis. Awesome. What are the words that we use to describe this season? Other worldly. Magical. Special. Different. If we are disappointed, it is that it is over so soon. In many ways, we wish the world would always be like the Christmas season. The Church agrees with you.

 The Church agrees with you, wishing that, in many ways, the world would always be like this: magical, special, other worldly. The season of Advent is meant to be a time of opening our eyes to the world as it truly is. In truth, the world is dependent upon and waiting upon the Lord God. Let me explain.

 In a non-religious sense, the Christmas or even, dare I say, holiday, season, is a time of expectant waiting. Now, this Christmas waiting isn’t always ideal. I’m sure some people can’t wait to get drunk at the Christmas party for work or that some people can’t wait for presents due a greed in their hearts, but I hope you get the point.

 In the days before Christmas we turn away from our everyday life and little corner of our brain becomes occupied with waiting for Christmas. We wait for Christmas gifts. We wait for Christmas dinner. We wait for Christmas gatherings. Our view on the world changes. It is no long as it was but now our world is occupied by this waiting.

This waiting is to be the basic posture of the Christian faith. Let me use an image from the Mass to illustrate this. Those of you old enough to remember the Mass before 1970 and some of you younger people may have seen photos of this. For many years—even going back to the first centuries of Christianity, the Mass was said with the priest and the people facing the same direction. This posture was called ad orientem, Latin for "to the east." So that when words were addressed to the people, the priest faced them and when words were addressed to almighty God, the priest faced the altar. We still hear this sentiment in the Advent hymn, "People Look East." Our Church architecture still reflects this as well. Our very building is orientated- it has an architectural east towards which the building naturally flows.

The change from ad orientem was one of the most striking changes after the 2nd Vatican Council- although the documents never asked for it. When we look at this posture, I am sad that it is out of common practice and pray Mass in this posture almost once a week in daily Masses.

Some people mistakenly will say; “the priest had his back turned to the people.” This misses the point. Such critique is like saying that parents are cruel to children by buying toys, covering them with opaque paper and then forcing the children to look but not touch for almost 20 days before they can open them. Such a critique of ad orientem does not use eyes of faith. Such a statement forgets the priest is leading them in prayers to God. Together with the priest, the whole assembly at Mass would be physically acting like Advent or Christmas. Standing in the midst of the world but with their eyes turned towards the Lord. Not just turning in any direction but turning towards the Lord.

Isn’t that the basic identity of the Christian? In the midst of the world but seeing a reality deeper than than just our eyes. The ad orientem posture teaches us something about life. That posture teaches us something about faith. That posture teaches us, just as, in Advent, our waiting for Christmas teaches. We stay in the midst of the world, concerned for it, at the same time that our eyes are turned towards the Lord because that is where salvation is found for those people and even things we love within the world.

I’m sure you remember that this year, from October 2012 through November 2013 is a Year of Faith, declared by Pope Benedict XVI. We are to study our faith more deeply. So far, the lesson that I’m learning in the Year of Faith is that I do not believe enough. I do not believe enough. This thought doesn’t condemn me; rather it opens my eyes to the possibilities of belief. It opens my eyes to a new reality of Christian life. I stand in the world but I am to turn my eyes upon the Lord. That is where I wish to be with you, shoulder to shoulder in the midst of this world, with our eyes turned towards the Lord.

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