3rd Sunday of Advent, Year B
Preached [only in English] at Assumption Parish in Bellingham, WA. There is no Spanish translation.
This is one of those rare weekends where I had to write two different homilies, since last night we celebrated Our Lady of Guadalupe with the Hispanic community, rather than the 3rd Sunday of Advent. As much as I already struggle to finish one homily each week, I will say it was nice to be able to preach directly to our Hispanic Community about their needs, struggles, and identity.
The summary of what I said to them is that the Hispanic Catholic Community has a particular mission, given to them by Our Lady of Guadalupe nearly 500 years ago, to ensure that the Good News of Jesus is preached all over the Americas. The Europeans might have brought Christianity over here, but it is the Latin Americans who have the responsibility of guaranteeing the strength and vitality of the Gospel message on these shores. I think we can all agree that we need the message of Hispanic Catholicism now more than ever, as they have managed to retain a focus on faith and family in a way that Anglo culture has now almost entirely abandoned.
Fortuitously, this message of being chosen for mission permeates through our Sunday readings as well, particularly in our first reading which lays out the mission of the long-awaited Messiah:
“He has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners, to announce a year of favor from the LORD and a day of vindication by our God.”
I am sure this passage features heavily in the mind of Pope Francis when he utters his constant refrain to go out into the peripheries. After all, to whom was the Messiah sent? To the poor, the brokenhearted, and the imprisoned. Who is more marginalized, ignored, or forgotten than the poor, brokenhearted, or imprisoned?
Remember what I have said a few times in recent homilies: what is true of Jesus is true of us. By our baptism, we were perfectly united to Christ, so his mission now becomes our mission. We are sent into the peripheries. We are sent to the poor, brokenhearted, and imprisoned. And, of course, some among us do an excellent job with this. We have many parishioners who volunteer with Hope House or Community Meal or Opportunity Council, which are all direct ministries to the poor. Before COVID shut so many things down, we had a robust grief support ministry. And I know Deacon Larry, and maybe even a few others, have made jail ministry a significant part of their lives. These are the obvious applications of this passage and they are challenging. They are challenging because these ministries really are very much on the peripheries. But they are also challenging passages because the Messiah is not sent to bring material comfort, but to bring glad tidings, healing, liberty, release, favor, and vindication. What would a ministry to the poor, brokenhearted, and imprisoned even look like which fulfilled that mandate? How can we bring liberty to captives when the state has made very clear when or if that liberty will be made available?
Which pushes me to think of a modification Pope Francis has made to his refrain. He has said that going to the peripheries also means going into the existential peripheries; going to those who may be fine physically but who are oppressed and beaten down by this corrupted and fallen world and who have not been given any hope or escape from its destructive forces. Think of the depressed, the addicted, the nihilist. Those who are beginning to realize that what they are being offered by materialism or commercialism or hedonism will never bring them happiness, and yet they don’t see any alternative. There is a way in which these folks are also the poor, the brokenhearted, and the imprisoned, and we are being sent out to them as well.
Allow me to be more specific about these existential peripheries.
I think about the elderly, particularly those who are no longer able to drive or leave the house. Some are blessed to have attentive children nearby, but many do not. Even before this pandemic, there were many people who went off to assisted living facilities to die alone. Today, every single person in an assisted living facility is a prisoner in their own home, unable to leave lest they bring in an infection that could kill half of their neighbors. We have active, involved, long-term parishioners that I have not heard from for nine months because they cannot use a computer and no one from the parish can visit them. How can they receive the glad tidings of liberty?
I think about the mentally ill, particularly the ones who struggle under the guise of normalcy. People who seem functional but are only a few pill-less days away from losing everything. People who cannot hold a job because of the unpredictability of a crippling depression. People who do not even realize that they are sick as they destroy everything they once loved. What does a year of favor look like for them?
I think about people on the political right and the political left that are so consumed by their crusades and so convinced of the necessity of their activism that they have not felt happiness or peace for months or years. People whose depth of love has been replaced, without them noticing, with a profound hatred. Can they ever find release?
I think of those who have been sold the American mantra that financial security and the latest gadgets are all they need to be happy. Or those who truly live from one party to the next, without slowing down to ask if there is something more than just the next rush. Or those who pursue fame or success without a knowledge of how to live once they get there. Can they ever be vindicated for the lies that they have been fed?
My friends, when the Pope speaks about going to the peripheries, he does not mean that our presence there is good enough. He means we are supposed to go there so that we can bring Jesus. It is Jesus and Jesus alone who can come upon the homeless, the widowed, the prisoner, the forgotten, the isolated, the ill, the activist, the hedonist, the materialist, or any other broken person – it is Jesus alone who can bring them glad tidings, healing, and release. Because we are perfectly united to the Lord, the mission of Jesus becomes our mission, but it remains his work and his power that brings success. As St. Paul says, “The one who calls you is faithful, and he will also accomplish it.”
To put it another way we, like St. John the Baptist, are not Christ, we merely prepare the way for him. When we go into the peripheries, those dark corners of the world we prefer not to think about, when we go into the peripheries, we do so as a forerunner to Jesus. We Christians should not be afraid of these dark corners because we know the power of the one who comes after us. We Christians have experienced the power of the Lord in our own lives, in our own conversions, in our own salvation, so we should not doubt that he does, in fact, have the power “to bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and release to the prisoners.” “The one who calls you is faithful, and he will also accomplish it.”