Homily for Mass – Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica, Ottawa

Sunday, 27 November, 2011 – 7.30pm

[Readings: Isaiah 63:16-17; 64:1, 3-8;  Ps 80;  1 Cor 1:3-9;  Mk 13:33-37]

On this first Sunday of Advent, we begin a new church year.  In a practical way, it is a new beginning for English speaking Catholics, as we fully inaugurate our new English translation of the Roman Missal.  These prayers that we begin using today will accompany us for many years to come;  with them we will journey deeper into the mystery of God and they will help us to give expression to the gift of faith that we have received.

The season of Advent is a time of anticipation, a time of waiting for the feast of Christmas.  The very first Christmas truly was a new beginning for humankind.  He, through whom the world was made, came amongst us as one of us, to liberate the world from the bonds of sin, and to save us from eternal death.  With the coming of Christ as man the world was given a new opportunity to walk the path to life.  It was given a fresh beginning.  Whatever might have happened in the past, whatever ways God’s people might have forgotten God, or strayed from the covenant, or even outrightly rejected God’s way, in God becoming flesh, humankind had a new chance and a new opportunity to come to God.

New beginnings are important.  They allow us to start again;  to put our feet on the path we really want to be walking.  They allow us to leave behind some things we really want to get rid of.  We can formulate new resolutions, and set out with a new energy to do what we are called to do.

This season of Advent is a chance for us to – spiritually – take advantage of a new beginning.  As we prepare to celebrate the wonderful Christmas feast which was a new beginning in God’s relationship with humankind, we can enter into that newness for ourselves.

In the first reading tonight, we hear the prophet Isaiah’s longing for a new beginning.  He acknowledges that God’s people had gone astray.  He says, we transgressed.  We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.  The prophet has an urgent plea, a cry of longing to the Lord, O that you would tear open the heavens and come down!  None of us are perfect yet, and so all of us in some way can resonate with Isaiah’s sadness at the ways that we have strayed from God’s love and God’s will.  Our sins “carry us away” from God in ways we don’t even want.  We need our Saviour to come: O that you would tear open the heavens and come down!

At the end of the First Reading we hear – almost in contrast to the urgent pleas coming before – words of trust and surrender; Yet, O Lord, you are our Father;  we are the clay, and you are our potter;  we are all the work of your hand.  Perhaps one advent resolution we might make is to more consciously allow God to shape us and our lives … to be clay in the Lord’s hands that responds to his action, his prompting … that our lives might be a work that is more evidently shaped by God’s hands.

In Advent, as we prepare to recall the new beginning of the first Christmas, and as we receive an invitation to begin again ourselves, we are also reminded that we await an ultimate new beginning: when Christ will come in glory, and will take all who are ready at his coming into the kingdom of heaven.  We must remember that our participation in the heavenly kingdom is not a forgone conclusion – the gift of eternal life can be lost, and what we do during the time we’re given has a decisive effect.  Last Sunday’s Gospel had the chastening words of the Lord that some will go to eternal life, and some to eternal punishment.

And so, as Jesus urges his followers to prepare for his return he tells them to keep alert, keep awake!  We are to be ready for when our master returns: not fearfully, but soberly and joyfully.  If we think of Jesus’ first coming, we know that some were ready to welcome him, and so they gained the full benefit of his ministry.  They had heeded the words of the prophets, they had anticipated the Messiah, and they recognized and welcomed him.  When Jesus comes again, there will be no more chances!  Jesus left behind his church, to advance his work between his first coming and his ultimate return.  Now is the time for us to be alert, and to be helping other people to be alert, awake and ready.  We are alert and ready when we try to follow the Lord in our daily life, when we choose what Christ would choose, when we love what he loves, when we conform our life to his, when we don’t allow ourselves to be overcome by the inevitable difficulties and problems of daily life (Benedict XVI).

As we await the final return of Jesus, he doesn’t leave us alone.  In a few moments we’ll celebrate the great mystery of his daily coming to us in the sacramental presence of his body and blood.  Jesus himself comes to strengthen us, to help us be alert and awake.

As we enter a new beginning on this first Sunday of Advent, let’s use these weeks of preparation for the celebration of Christ’s first coming as a time to return to the Lord in new ways.  May we open ourselves to the ways God wants to shape our lives.  When Jesus returns to us may he find us awake: joyfully ready to inherit the great promise in which now we dare to hope.