Saint Mary of the Angels homilies and reflections

Homily, Nov 27th, 2011,1st Sunday of Advent, Fr. Ken Hughes, SJ

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St. Mary of the Angels   11/27/11

Isaiah 63.16b-17 19b; 64.2-7;   I Corinthians 1.3-9;   Mark 13.33-37

 

Today, the prophet Isaiah begins by professing to God: “You, Lord, are our Father, our redeemer You are named forever.”  But then the prophet complains: “Why do You let us wander … from your ways?” and complains even more:  “…You have hidden your face from us and delivered us up to our guilt.”  Fortunately, the complaining leads to yearning, deep yearning: “Oh, that You would rend the heavens and come down,” --  “Would that you might meet us doing right.”  And then, the prophet returns to his initial profession of faith: “Yet, O Lord, you are our Father;” and adds,  “we are the clay and you the potter: we are the work of your hands.”

 

“We are the clay and you the potter: we are the work of your hands.”

 

A few years ago, I visited a pottery shed and watched a man fashion drinking mugs out of clay.  I watched him throw a lump of clay on a flat spinning wheel.  With both hands he shaped the clay into a small tower.  Next, with his fingers curved he carved out the inside.  Then, with fingertips, he gently smoothed the lip of the mug.  And, finally, by drawing a thin thread, he separated the mug from the moving wheel.  All in a few minutes!

 

What impressed me most was the strength it took to shape and carve out the mug, but then the delicate touch to finish it.  And I noticed that just as the potter shaped the clay, so the clay shaped the potter.  I could see the potter’s powerful arm muscles but also noticed that his back was hunched from years of bending over the wheel and pouring himself into his work.

 

In a similar way, we are shaped by God and God is shaped by us.  In the shaping, we may not be aware of it, but God’s fingerprints are all over us. I find that comforting, especially as the shaping happens every single day.  I also imagine God hunched over us as He shapes us, -- an image that Gerard Manley Hopkins used in a poem when he described: “… the Holy Ghost over the bent/ World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.” 

 

All that happens between God and us is not equal, but it is mutual.

If we, like Isaiah, complain that God has hidden his face from us, God also complains that, too often, we also have hidden our face from Him.  If we, like Isaiah, yearn for the heavens to be rent open and for God to come down to us and be with us, God’s yearning for us has already torn open the heavens.  God has already come to us and taken on the clay of our humanity. God already has become Emmanuel, “God with us.” 

 

Between God and us the complaining is mutual, the yearning is mutual.  And God wants a love that is mutual.

 

We see this mutual love expressed in the Gospel today as watching, working and waiting.  God is always watching over us, working with us and waiting for us.  Now, Jesus seeks the same from us.

 

Four times Jesus tells us to watch, i.e., to be attentive to the ways He keeps trying to reach us, speak to us, touch our hearts.  He says that we are to be like gatekeepers, watching what comes into our being.  Can there be so many distractions that we miss Him when He arrives at our gate?

 

Watching does not mean being idle.  Jesus calls us servants as well as gatekeepers.  We each have work to do for God.  And you and I can do this work because St. Paul affirms today that we “are not lacking in any spiritual gift …”   As we look around, too many people need our help, our encouragement, our support, our comfort.  Our city is suffering.  Our very neighborhood is suffering.  There is something for each one of us to do this Advent.

 

But, we must also wait.  In the watching and working, we wait.  St. Paul reminds us that we “wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  What does Jesus want to reveal to us this Advent about Himself, about his Father, about us, about our neighbor?  Waiting is so important.  True, in the waiting we can grow tired or become distracted.  But, in the waiting our yearning for God can also grow stronger and go deeper.

 

Brothers and sisters, we stand on the threshold of a new season.  Shall we gladly place ourselves once again in God’s hands to be shaped and molded?  If so, may we watch with eyes wide open.  May we work with mind and hands and heart engaged.  And may we wait, -- wait to be surprised by our God who is coming to meet us in ways we do not know, might not expect, may even be beyond our dreams and imagination.

 

But let us begin by watching, working and waiting.   

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