‘Something of this world, in this world’

Bishop marks the First Sunday of Advent

On Dec. 3, Bishop celebrated the First Sunday of Advent at St. Cecilia Catholic Church in Jasper, marking the parish’s 100thanniversary. The complete text of the bishop’s homily follows herein.

My dear brothers and sisters, how grateful I am to be with you here at St. Cecilia Parish this Sunday morning! I thank Father Antony for his gracious welcome once again to be here at St. Cecilia Parish. In addition, I, too, add my welcome to the Benedictine Sisters and Brother from Sacred Heart Monastery in Cullman, and St. Bernard Abbey respectively. Thanks also to the presence of the Knights of Columbus who bring a solemnity to our celebration. Along with a parish visit for the centennial of the church, blessing the new updating that has been accomplished to freshen up the church, we begin our short but profitable season of Advent, awaiting the Lord’s return at the end of time, and His coming in history on Christmas. Each parish, institution, and work of charity in our diocese is a special place of encounter with Christ – a reminder that “the Lord is near.” Yes, the Lord is near, and we remain awake and alert because Jesus comes when we least expect it.

First, a word of congratulations to the parish of St. Cecilia. You have been a constant reminder of nearness of Christ to all in this local community of Jasper. Here, people come from near and far ready to welcome each other, pray with each other, celebrate with each other, grieve with each other, and walk with each other. Notwithstanding the barrier of language, our purpose remains clear, and our resolve is strong that we cannot abandon our faith or take it for granted. So, I thank you for your steadfast witness to the Gospel of Christ under the patronage of St. Cecilia, whom we just celebrated a few weeks ago.

This year, Advent is a very short season indeed. Christmas occurs on the Monday immediately following our 4th Sunday of Advent. Yet, it is a season that is filled with deep meaning of expectation and hope as we prepare once again to celebrate the coming of Christ – in Bethlehem, at the end of time, and in our daily lives. Today, we are cautioned, “Stay awake … be alert … wait for the Lord.” Indeed, “He will surely come!”

So much is weighing upon us right now. We made it through Thanksgiving, Black Friday, perhaps even the writing of a few Christmas cards – with Christmas decorations on the way and Christmas music to help us get “in the mood!”

The heart of our focus now shifts to Christmas. I remember hearing a person really moved by Christmas comment, “It is truly something out of this world!” And a friend added, “Yes, it is something out of this world, but in this world!” We begin the hectic aspects of this season inviting everyone here to examine how we fill our lives, trying to squeeze out of everything the most important thing that awaits us: an experience of Christ – “something out of this world, in our world!” It is for that reason that we take a moment to step back and pause, perk up our ears, re-focus our energy, listen to what are hearts are telling us, and, through the Scriptures, look for that answer that will meet us on our life’s journey.

Here are a couple factors that help me enter into the wonder of this beautiful season:

  1. The Old Testament Prophet Isaiah, one of our great Advent friends, recounts: “ … You wrought awesome deeds we could not hope for!” So, I say to myself: “What are the things beyond my imagination that I could never have dreamed up? Something really ‘out of this world.’” Through our experiences, they become more than mere coincidence, but an increasing flood of experiences that point us to something greater going on in our life, inviting us away from apathy, meaningless meanderings through life and pointing us in a direction we have yet to even imagine!
  2. St. Paul confirms these indications by saying we have been given the tools. We are not “lacking in any spiritual gift!” We need our natural senses of sight, hearing, taste, smell, and feeling to be provoked by things around us and awaken them to what is really near! The spiritual gifts we already have in our quiver – wisdom, knowledge and understanding, awe and wonder in the Lord’s presence – awaken us to something greater, the nearness of something out of this world, in this world. It is learning to keep our eyes wide-open and fixed on the One we are expecting to come!
  3. Finally, the Gospel from St. Mark synthesizes all of this with two simple commands: “Be watchful! Be alert!” It is as though we have to fine-tune our reception to access the fullness of the Christian message – a message of hope, of joy, of the nearness of a presence - something out of this world, in this world.

So, where do we look for Christ today? Where are the answers to our expectations and hopes? Do we look in the historical records of yesterday? In the prophecies for tomorrow?

Oftentimes, our aspirations and dreams are shaped by our short-term goals: to get through school, to get a job, to run a business or get through the shift, to care for someone I love, etc. Even if every one of our physical needs, our emotional needs, or our short–term hopes are satisfied, we will still feel a nagging that nothing can satisfy except by the One Who made us for Himself.

Advent acknowledges this need that we have – to awaken in us the possibilities and potentials of the human spirit for something more that keeps us on our tiptoes, looking out the window for that something (or someone!) else that will satisfy us in an infinite way.

We find this answer, of course, in a Someone: Christ, the babe found in an unlikely place – in a stable in Bethlehem. He is with us today. He is in the Eucharist so that our Advent Sunday becomes a way to recalibrate ourselves so we can thank You, Lord … You are out of this world – with us here and now.

Here’s that opening prayer: “Grant your faithful the resolve to run forth to meet your Christ.” 

In the same way that we run to Christ, I think the Lord is coming to meet us – and be for us the fullness of all we could ever hope for. Truly, He is “something out of this world, in this world!” Come, Lord Jesus!

To read more about St. Cecilia's 100th anniversary celebration, please click here.