Sunday, our candidates and catechumens will take part in the Rite of Welcoming and Acceptance. This homily is for that Mass.
Does today seem different?
The Mass this morning didn’t begin in the usual way. It started with a knock on the door, as the candidates and catechumens prepared to enter the church. Ironically, it’s the second time in the last few days I’ve experienced that kind of beginning for a Mass. The installation of Bishop Brennan also began that way, with the bishop knocking on the door of the co-cathedral of St. Joseph in Brooklyn.
The knock itself is wordless, but it serves as a kind of question.
It says, “May I come in? Can I be with you? Am I welcome?”
To our candidates and catechumens, I can only answer with a resounding yes, and add the same words that we say at the beginning of a baptism: “The Christian community welcomes you with great joy.”
But before we move on, I want to reflect on the sound that we heard at the start of this Mass.
In so many ways, this is the sound of Advent.
This is the season of a knock at the door.
And the one who is knocking is Jesus.
He is really the one asking us, “May I come in? Can I be with you? Am I welcome?”
And the question we need to ask ourselves: Is he? What are we doing to make that possible?
In the Gospel this morning, we heard people asking John the Baptist:
“What should we do?”
I think the readings this Sunday offer us two important answers.
First, there’s the wisdom of John the Baptist, who answers that question with some specific advice for his followers.
But it’s good advice for all of us during Advent: give to those in need, share with the person who has nothing, live honestly and honorably. In short, let your life be rooted in love.
That is supposed to be what we are all about. But it can be easy to forget that, especially now. We are all waiting — Advent, of course is a time of waiting — but we aren’t always waiting for Jesus. We’re waiting for a good deal on airfare, or lower gas prices, or a sale at Macy’s. Maybe you’re waiting to find out what your mother-in-law is planning for the menu on Christmas Eve. Children are waiting to see what will be under the tree. Like the people in the Gospel, we are “filled with expectation.” But our expectations are sometimes misguided or misplaced.
But there is more to Advent than that. We should be expecting Jesus! We should be getting ready for the knock at the door.
And the clock is ticking: 13 days and counting. Our vestments today are a visible reminder. At this moment, on Guadete Sunday, the Sunday of rejoicing, we put on a brighter color, rose, to signify the nearness of Christ’s birth. Advent is nearing an end.
For some of us, that’s a relief. But for a lot of us — with gifts to buy, packages to wrap, boxes to ship, cards to address, trees to trim — we’d like more time. Can we just stop the clock?
The good news is that there is still time for what truly matters.
There is time for prayer. Time for quiet. Time to step back from the frenzy of Advent and embrace the spirit of wonder and preparation, a spirit of reconciliation and healing.
There is still time to make ourselves truly ready for the coming of Christ — the one who quietly, persistently, lovingly knocks at the door of our hearts.
What should we do?
John the Baptist offered one answer. But there is a second answer in the scriptures, from St. Paul, and it strikes the perfect chord this Sunday:
“Rejoice in the Lord always. Rejoice!
Your kindness should be known to all.
The Lord is near.
Have no anxiety at all, but in everything,
by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving,
make your requests known to God.”
Rejoice! Share that joy with others. Put aside anxiety. Trust in God for everything.
Padre Pio famously offered this formula for living: “Pray, hope and don’t worry.” That’s a good way to look at Advent, too — and I’d just add one more ingredient: be ready for the knock on the door.
Over the next 13 days, let us make that our goal. May we hold that in our hearts — and may we remember to hold in our hearts, as well, the men and women before us, embarking on one of the greatest adventures of their lives.
The knock on the door reminds us: rejoice! He is near!
Let us be ready to welcome him into our hearts.
And let us do it with gratitude, with generosity and — as this Sunday reminds us — with transcendent joy.