Father Donald Senior, CP

Nov. 28: First Sunday of Advent

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Going home

Jer 33:14-16; Ps 25:4-5, 8-9, 10, 14; 1 Thes 3:12—4:2; Lk 21:25-28, 34-36

The spirit of Advent that we begin this Sunday turns our minds and hearts to the future. The Gospel reading from Luke cites Jesus’ words to his disciples while teaching in the Jerusalem temple.

In the manner of several biblical texts about the future, Jesus warns that there will be times of turmoil, “nations will be in dismay, perplexed by the roaring of the seas and the waves. People will die of fright in anticipation of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of heaven will be shaken.”

Viewing the future with concern is something we have heard a lot about in recent weeks. Discussions about severe climate change and its disastrous impact dominated meetings of world leaders at conferences in Rome and in Glasgow. Following the meeting in Glasgow, 250,000 demonstrators surged through the streets, protesting that not enough is being done to avoid environmental disaster.

The season of Advent speaks of Christ’s coming to us in a variety of modes and urges us to be alert and ready.

On one level, we recall the historical appearance of Jesus among us through the incarnation and begin to prepare for the joy of Christmas. In the manner of the readings for today, we are also reminded that Christ will be present to us at the consummation of human history, an ultimate future event we can hardly imagine. And there is another “advent” of Christ in our everyday lives — moments of grace that comfort or challenge us.

The figure of Christ is the link between each of these dimensions. The Christ whom we will all meet at the end is, we believe, the same compassionate and healing Christ that is revealed in the Gospels. 

Despite the uncertainties and chaos that history might bring, we trust that our final destiny is not one of doom but an encounter with the unimaginable love of God for us, the intense love revealed by Jesus himself.

Recently, the Archdiocese of Chicago commemorated the 25th anniversary of the death of Cardinal Joseph Bernardin. He was an exceptional pastoral leader, not only as archbishop of Chicago, but also as a national leader of the Catholic Church in the United States.

Among many of his accomplishments were the bishops’ pastoral letter challenging the use of nuclear weapons and the important articulation of the “seamless garment” ethic that illustrated the church’s stance on the sacredness of life across the spectrum of human experience.

When Cardinal Bernardin passed away after a long bout with pancreatic cancer, crowds lined the streets along the route of his funeral procession. I suspect that most of that crowd were honoring the cardinal not so much because of his policy leadership but because of his evident holiness and the courage with which he faced his death. When he learned that he had cancer, he became a voice of compassion and comfort to the sick who were also facing death. 

In the last weeks of his life, he dictated a beautiful book entitled “The Gift of Peace.” There he spoke candidly of his own suffering when he had been falsely accused of sexual abuse and yet reconciled with his accuser. 

But most of all, he spoke of his own struggles to deal with his mortal illness and how through prayer and the comfort of others he found peace.

In rereading his book, I thought of it as an Advent reflection. He said that toward the end of his life, many people asked him what heaven would be like, even though he knew no more than anyone else. But he recalled his experience of visiting for the first time his parent’s homeland in northern Italy. 

As he said, “After years of looking through my mother’s photo albums, I knew the mountains, the land, the houses, the people. … I said, ‘My God. I know this place. I am home. Somehow, I think crossing from this life into life eternal will be similar. I will be home.”

As we begin the season of Advent and think of the future, both personally and collectively, our faith assures us that no matter what we may face along the way, we will be home.


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