Fr. Bryan Howard
4th Sunday of Advent – Year A – 22 December 2019
In 2005 researchers from the University of North Carolina published the results of 3,000 interviews with teenagers and young adults. They found that most of them believed that God exists and that He created the universe and ordered it and that He created human life and watches over us. They believe that God wants people to be nice to each other, to treat one another fairly, and to be tolerant, and that the central goal of life is to be happy and feel good about yourself. However, they also believe that God doesn’t really get involved in our lives except when He’s needed to fix something. I’m not here to belittle anyone who thinks that way; some of the members of my own immediate family fall into that category. I do, however, want people to understand that God is far more than just the creator, that morality is far more than just being nice to people, and that God isn’t content to just sit back and watch until we need Him. All of these points can be answered in just one word: Love. God is love, and He created the universe and us in order to share His love with us. God wants us to love one another as He loves us, and, because He loves us, He wants to be with us.
Our first readings today, from the prophet Isaiah, prophecies that the Messiah would have the name Emmanuel. How can Jesus, then, be the Messiah. He doesn’t seem to fit that prophecy. Our Gospel, however, points out that the word, “Emmanuel,” means “God is with us.” Jesus fulfills this prophecy not by being named Emmanuel but by actually being God with us. In the person of Jesus God shows His love for us by uniting a human nature, the man Jesus, to Himself in one person. The person Jesus is 100% human and 100% God, not a mix of both like some Greek demi-god, or a human being possessed by God, but a true unity.
However, God isn’t content to unite just one human being to Himself. In Jesus Christ we can all be united to God. On the Cross, Jesus Christ showed us the depths of God’s love for us by suffering and dying for us. In the Resurrection He offered all of us new life. In the person of Jesus, God showed His love to the world, but only the people living in that time in the area of Palestine would have even had the opportunity to see Him, let alone believe in Him and follow Him. Therefore, Jesus gave His Church the gift of the Eucharist. Just as Jesus Christ was God incarnate, which literally means “in the flesh,” so the Eucharist is God incarnate, the real presence of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. In the Eucharist humanity and divinity, man and God, meet through the flesh of Jesus. We play this out in every Mass. The sanctuary represents heaven, the nave, where the people sit, represents earth. After the Eucharistic Prayer we meet at the middle point to receive the Holy Communion. At that point heaven comes down to earth and earth rises up to meet her Christ. The Eucharist contains all the love of God, and is enough to make someone a saint from receiving it just once, if they place all their faith in God.
Once we have received the grace, friendship, and love that God is offering us in the Eucharist we must allow God to start to transform us form the inside out. God isn’t content with us being nice to people; He wants to make us able to love as He loves and truly take up our crosses every day and follow after Christ. Sometimes that means swallowing my pride and admitting that I’ve messed up, apologizing, and doing my best to make things right. It might mean coming to see Jesus in someone that’s particularly hard for us to get along with. Maybe it means giving up something that I love because I’ve realized that it’s hurting someone else. It could mean paying attention to someone else when all I want to do is sit back and recuperate after a long day, or recognizing that someone needs some space even though I really want to talk to them. In so many little ways, from taking out the trash without being asked to the greatest sacrifices of the martyrs, we love like Christ, by doing what He did, being with others and sacrificing for their good.
In every family the home needs to become a school of love where we can experience the unconditional love of others and learn to give that love ourselves. Sometimes our family members are the hardest people to get along with, but we also have the greatest responsibility to them. May we all look to Christ to see an example of love, receive the strength we need in the Eucharist, and then, in our turn, become examples of love to the people around us, starting with our families but not stopping there.
Fr. Bryan was pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes from July 3, 2017 to June 2022.