Monday, December 18, 2023

Homily Third Sunday in Advent 2023

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I say, rejoice,” 

Saint Paul, in the second reading, says something thought-provoking. He said, “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.”

Twenty-five years ago, when I was battling cancer. And I discovered this reading from Saint Paul: "Give thanks in all circumstances,” Give thanks for cancer. Are you kidding me? But no matter how hard I tried, I could not get this reading out of my head. Mercifully, I went into remission but kept thinking about this reading. The truth is, as crazy as it sounds, I began to realize that the cancer brought me closer to Jesus. Looking back at that time, it is clear to me I would not be a deacon today if not for the cancer.  

When faced with significant challenges like illness, job loss, or relationship challenges, the question that often comes to mind is, “Why do bad things happen to good people?”    

We have all faced trials and sufferings of different kinds. Losing loved ones, facing sickness, and financial struggles have disrupted the lives of people all over the world. I'm sure there have been times when you, too, asked, "Why me?" Why did my father get cancer? Why did my child die? Why does a child have to live with a disability like cerebral palsy? 

When pondering why bad things happen, and they happen to all of us, the critical question to be answered is: How will we respond? That is what I think our readings today are asking us. What do we intend to do now that “It” has happened? Can we live loving lives in a world that has disappointed us by not being perfect? 

Christianity, our faith, helps us, and enables us to face our challenges and work through them. We live in a broken world. Jesus is asking us today: Can we rejoice? Can we find JOY in the face of a world full of imperfections? A world capable of containing great beauty and goodness at the same time. Can we find joy in this world because it is our only world?

God's will for our lives is about more than the circumstances we face. It is about how we respond to those circumstances.

 My wife Linda has a saying that always makes me smile and think. She says, "Life's not about waiting for the storm to pass but learning how to dance in the rain."  Even in the storms of life, as worshipers of God, we can rejoice; we can dance in the rain because of what Jesus has gained for us. 

In our church, the stations of the cross are so powerful, and one of the most powerful statements in these stations is here at the end. It says, “For behold by the wood of the cross JOY came into the whole world.” 

Crosses bring JOY? Yes! Christ’s cross brought us great joy. We rejoice not because our circumstances are perfect! We rejoice because, as St Paul told us in his letter to the Romans: “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him.”

God can and does work in our challenges. When you get to my age and look back, there are plenty of challenges. My career didn’t go as we planned. We lost our fourth child, which is never an easy situation. These experiences helped us help other couples who have lost a child or lost a job. My journey with cancer has allowed me to speak with people and pray with people going through something similar.

I’ve learned that – the experiences of our lives, if we let God use them, are the mysterious and perfect preparation for the work he would have us do. 

Yes, bad things happen to good people. But when we learn to rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and give thanks in all circumstances, we can live this way when we respond to our challenges with HOPE.   

During the Vietnam War, they imprisoned the Catholic bishop of South Vietnam for 13 years in solitary confinement. He was asked later in life how he made it through that experience. He said something we all should embrace. He said: “I told myself I will not wait. I will live the present moment, filling it to the brim with love.” He said, “I simply recall that I must live each day, each moment as if it were the last of my life. I leave aside everything accidental and concentrate only on the essential, then each word, each gesture, each telephone call, and each decision I make is the most beautiful of my life. I give my love to everyone and my smile to everyone. I am afraid of wasting even one second by living without meaning.” 

He said, "Only one moment exists for you in all its beauty, and that is the present moment. Live it entirely in the love of God.

When we follow this advice and live each moment, we can live through the challenges and allow God to use them as Jesus did. 

St. Paul and this Vietnamese bishop understood that it is not joy that makes us grateful but it is gratitude that makes us joyful.

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