November 28, 2021 – Moments and Horizons

1st Sunday of Advent, Year C

Readings || Lecturas


Previous Years:

Preached at Assumption Parish in Bellingham, WA


I wrote a homily about Advent, and what role it plays in the liturgical calendar, and what the Church’s desire for Advent is. I talked about the 2nd Coming and the 1st Coming, and how the whole season is focused on the idea of longing. I took some pot shots at consumerism and overly busy schedules. But I did not like that homily, so we are going to do this instead.

The last thing that Jesus says in our Gospel is this:

“Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life, and that day catch you by surprise like a trap. For that day will assault everyone who lives on the face of the earth. Be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent and to stand before the Son of Man.”

I do the same thing that everyone else does, which is to say that I live in a constant state of surprise at the passage of time. It is hard to believe that November is already over, that we have already passed Thanksgiving. It is hard to believe that COVID has had drastic effects on our society for almost 21 months now. It is hard to believe I have been at Assumption for two and a half years, or that I have been a priest for four and a half. My days go by extremely quickly, and my weeks even quicker. I’ll have something on my to-do list, thinking I am just about to do it, and then I’ll wake up and find three weeks have passed and I still haven’t touched it.

This, I think, is what the Lord means when he says, “Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life…” Those of us who live deadline to deadline are just as bad as those of us who live party to party – in both cases, our joy lies just out of reach. If we can only make it to the next thing, we will be happy. And then, by the time we reach that thing, we are already focused on the next. Always reaching, never happy.

So what makes us truly happy? I would say moments and horizons.

We cannot encounter God or each other in an abstract future. We can only encounter God and each other in concrete moments. These may be moments of prayer, of joy, of sorrow, or anxiety, or of adoration, but whatever they are, they are a concrete experience in this world that the Lord has given it. Encounters with God and each other happen when we are authentically living out our humanity, will all of its transcendence and its imminence, living out that constant tug-of-war between spirit and flesh. If we are present to these moment, entire universes open up before us, because these moments contain the complexity of humanity and the infinity of God.

And then we also encounter God, each other, and ourselves in horizons. When we contemplate the immensity of the Lord and the mystery of our salvation through Jesus; when we reflect on who we are and who we were created to be; when we make space for the intricacy and unpredictability of other people. Contemplating the breadth and profundity of existence allows us to reconnect with the breadth and profundity of existing as an incarnated image of God.

The Lord is certainly correct that, if we allow our hearts to become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life, we will miss him. Because he is not found in some future deadline or party or experience. The Lord is found in the concrete and the mysterious, and we have to train ourselves to focus on these things so that we might find him. Otherwise, we will live our lives in such a way that time will keep surprising us and escaping us until it is too late to actually live and experience life.

This, of course, is the foundation for my annual tirade against the way we approach Christmas in contemporary U.S. society. We humans need time to prepare, to contemplate, to reconnect with the little moment and the big ideas. Without this contemplative time, we will live unfulfilling, unexamined lives. And it really plumbs my pudding that consumerism has taken over so completely and effectively that all preparation, all waiting, all longing has been denied us.

But, again, I do not want to preach a homily that says that whatever you do during Advent is wrong. That seems unhelpful, and I don’t really care. What I care about is that you have the opportunity to actual be a fulfilled, well-adjusted human being, experiencing a profound relationship with your God. If you do not use Advent as this time, then you need to figure out another time to make it happen. We cannot live deadline to deadline, party to party, or holiday or holiday. We need fasts to balance out our feasts, otherwise the Lord will catch us by surprised because we never slowed down enough to prepare for him.

If you want some suggestions for how you might do this during Advent, I have three:

First, every form of waiting or longing is an Advent spirituality. If you normally start Christmas after Halloween, would you consider waiting until after Thanksgiving? Or of you start after Thanksgiving, would you consider waiting until December 17th? Putting off the thing that we ardently desire, waiting for the joy that is to come, is exactly what we try to remember and pray about during Advent.

Second, would you consider having a conversation with your family members about how many gifts are really necessary? My mother, sister, and I have stopped gift giving altogether, instead agreeing to see a show or have an experience together sometime each winter. My extended family has a gift exchange that allows 17 people to feel the love of gift-giving while only having to purchase one gift each year. These reductions allow us to focus more on the spirituality of the season and less on the need to buy and possess. But, ultimately and more importantly, the real work is learning to make time and space for the little things and the big things. Make sure that these holiday traditions are opportunities to encounter God and each other, and not just another check box on a to-do list. Make sure you carve out time to read the readings and to pray, so that the profundity of the longing we have for God can take root in your heart. Realize that your life will be successful, not if you accomplish everything and decorate everything and fulfill every tradition. Your life will be successful if you live it, if you allow the Lord to touch your soul so that you can experience the fullness of life and love and grace that he has planned for you. Your life will be successful if you remain vigilant, making time and space for God.


NB: This is a different homily than the English version.

El problema central que he estado tratando de resolver con nuestra Comisión Hispana es cómo asegurarnos de que nuestra comunidad sea fuerte y unida. A veces se siente como si todos fuéramos familias individuales, separadas, sin muchas conexiones entre nosotros. Mientras trabajamos en esta cuestión, he llegado a la conclusión de que la base de nuestra fuerza como una comunidad es y estará siempre en la oración. Si no oramos juntos, ninguna otra unidad importará, porque será una unidad basada en algo que no sea Jesucristo. Así que mi objetivo es asegurar que tengamos, en nuestra comunidad, muchas oportunidades para la oración comunitaria. Nosotros, por supuesto, tenemos la Misa, donde toda la comunidad reza junta. Y estamos trabajando para crear pequeños grupos de oración, donde la gente pueda orar con algunas otras personas u otras familias. Y también estamos trabajando para crear grupos de oración de tamaño mediano, como un grupo carismático o un grupo de adoración eucarística, donde un segmento de nuestra comunidad con una espiritualidad compartida pueda orar juntos.

Por supuesto, la cultura hispana tiene muchas devociones y actividades de oración hermosas, y es importante que no olvidemos estos aspectos de nuestras culturas, porque es este fundamento de oración lo que hace que la cultura hispana sea verdaderamente fuerte. Con ese fin, he estado trabajando con nuestra Comisión Hispana para asegurarme de que tengamos un calendario completo de oportunidades de oración para el mes de diciembre, cuando tantos hispanos se toman más tiempo para orar.

Específicamente, este mes tiene dos eventos importantes, Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe y Navidad. Recuerde, por supuesto, que Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe es la patrona de todas las Américas, por lo que esta no es solo una celebración mexicana. En preparación para Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, estamos rezando una novena, lo que significa que rezamos el Rosario juntos durante nueve días, a veces en Zoom, a veces en persona. Luego, para Guadalupe misma, debido a que el doce de diciembre cae en un domingo de Adviento este año, y el Adviento es más importante, estaremos celebrando la noche del once de diciembre con Misa a las diez de la noche, adoración al Santísimo Sacramento a las once de la noche, y mañanitas a la medianoche. Para Navidad, estamos haciendo posadas todas las noches a las seis y media de la tarde. No tenemos suficientes misas de Navidad para ofrecer una misa completa en español, pero a las diez de la noche la misa tendrá una homilía bilingüe. Y, por supuesto, hay confesiones durante todo el Adviento, porque prepararse para una liturgia importante es a menudo una buena excusa para volver a la confesión. Hemos enumerado todas estas oportunidades en un papel en la entrada y esperamos que cada familia tome una para su refrigerador.

Desafortunadamente, debido a COVID, no podemos ofrecer comida o fiestas junto con estas actividades, como suele ser tradicional. Esto puede parecer triste y vacío, pero podemos usarlo como un recordatorio de que orar juntos es la base de nuestra comunidad, y que las fiestas solo se basan en la unidad que debe estar presente primero en la oración.

No estoy seguro de haberles dejado clara aún mi visión de la comunidad hispana, pero es extremadamente importante para mí que la comunidad hispana sea responsable de sí misma. La comunidad es responsabilidad de la comunidad. Por supuesto, siempre me aseguraré de que tengamos apoyo de habla hispana en la oficina, pero en última instancia, la oficina parroquial no es responsable de planificar o impulsar la espiritualidad de nuestra comunidad hispana. Nuestra comunidad será más fuerte cuando asuma la responsabilidad de su fe, y estoy tratando de estructurar nuestra parroquia y nuestra comunidad para que esto sea cierto. Incluso antes de que Adriana decidiera jubilarse, la había trasladado a un trabajo diferente con menos supervisión de la comunidad hispana, en parte porque quería dejar en claro que no era su responsabilidad presionar a los hispanos para que rezaran, se reunieran y crecieran. Es responsabilidad de la comunidad asegurarse de que sus propios miembros estén creciendo en santidad y haciendo discípulos, razón por la cual trabajo tan de cerca ahora con nuestra Comisión Hispana.

Además de usar diciembre como una oportunidad para orar juntos, también quiero usarlo como una oportunidad para permitir que las familias individuales comiencen a asumir la responsabilidad de la vida de fe de esta comunidad. Cada noche de la novena y de las posadas necesita un anfitrión, alguien que reúna a la gente y dirija las oraciones. Tengo la esperanza de que podamos encontrar diecisiete familias que se ofrezcan como voluntarias para acoger cada noche. Si necesita apoyo u orientación, se lo proporcionaremos absolutamente, pero usted dirigirá la noche. Tradicionalmente, esa familia también puede proporcionar comida para la noche, pero eso no puede suceder este año, por lo que las responsabilidades de hospedaje son mucho más fáciles. Hemos colocado una hoja de inscripción en el espacio de reunión para que las familias se inscriban, y espero que lo hagan.

Un pensamiento final para hoy: una de las cosas más difíciles de ser inmigrantes es dejar atrás la vieja cultura y tradiciones y ser bombardeado por una nueva cultura y nuevas tradiciones. Esto es sumamente difícil. Sin embargo, también es una oportunidad. Los padres ahora pueden elegir para sus hijos las mejores partes de ambas culturas para transmitir.

Espero que esté reflexionando sobre las tradiciones que transmite a sus hijos. Por favor, no ceda al consumismo estadounidense en torno a la Navidad. Su Navidad no debe juzgarse por la cantidad de regalos que se sientan debajo del árbol o por lo costosos que son esos regalos. Esto no es en absoluto de lo que se trata la Navidad, pero esto es en lo que Estados Unidos ha convertido la Navidad en la búsqueda del todopoderoso dólar. En cambio, es hermoso lo espiritual y devocional que es el Adviento en las comunidades hispanas. Intente conservar esto. Traiga a sus hijos a la novena. Tráelos a las posadas. Necesitan ver algo mejor, algo más sagrado que un mundo obsesionado con un hombre gordo que les trae nuevos productos. Necesitan ver cómo es orar y prepararse para la venida de Jesús. Necesitan ver cómo las culturas católicas, como las culturas de las que la mayoría de ustedes provienen, se han empapado del Evangelio y cómo esto los lleva a celebrar la Navidad de una manera mucho más santa. Espero que este diciembre pueda ser un diciembre lleno de oración juntos.

English Original of the Spanish

The central problem I have been trying to address with our Hispanic Commission is how to ensure that our community is strong and united. Sometimes is feels like we are all individual, separate families, without a lot of connections to one another. As we have been working on this question, I have come to the conclusion that the foundation of our strength as a community is and will always be in prayer. If we do not pray together, no other unity will matter, because it will be unity based on something other than Jesus Christ. So it is my goal to ensure that we have, in our community, many opportunities for community prayer. We, of course, have the Mass, where the entire community prays together. And we are working to create small prayer groups, where people can pray with a few other people or other families. And we are also working to create medium sized prayer groups, like a charismatic group or a Eucharistic adoration group, where a segment of our community with a shared spirituality can pray together.

Of course, Hispanic culture has many beautiful devotions and prayer activities, and it is important that we not forget these aspects of our cultures, because it is this foundation of prayer that makes the Hispanic culture truly strong. To that end, I have been working with our Hispanic Commission to try make sure we have a full calendar of prayer opportunities for the month of December, when so many Hispanics take extra time to pray.

Specifically, this month has two major events, Our Lady of Guadalupe and Christmas. Remember, of course, that Our Lady of Guadalupe is a patroness of all the Americas, so this is not just a Mexican celebration. In preparation for Our Lady of Guadalupe, we are praying a novena, which means that we are praying the Rosary together for nine days, sometimes over Zoom, sometimes in person. Then for Guadalupe itself, because the twelfth of December falls on a Sunday of Advent this year, and Advent is more important, we will be celebrating on the evening of the eleventh of December with Mass at ten p.m., adoration of the Blessed Sacrament at eleven p.m., and mañanitas at midnight. For Christmas, we are doing posadas each night at six-thirty p.m. leading up to it. We do not have enough Christmas Masses to offer a full Mass in Spanish, but the ten p.m. Mass will have a bilingual homily. And, of course, there are confessions throughout Advent, because preparing for a major liturgy is often a good excuse to come back to confession. We have listed all of these opportunities on a paper in the entrance, and we hope each family will take one for their refrigerator.

Unfortunately, because of COVID, we cannot offer food or fiestas along with these activities, as is often traditional. This may seem sad and empty, but we can use it as a reminder that praying together is the foundation of our community, and that fiestas only build on the unity that must first be present in prayer.

I am not sure if I have made my vision for the Hispanic Community clear to you yet, but it is extremely important to me that the Hispanic Community be responsible for itself. The community is the responsibility of the community. Of course I will always make sure that we have Spanish-speaking support in the office, but ultimately the parish office is not responsible for planning or driving the spirituality of our Hispanic Community. Our community will be strongest when it takes responsibility for its faith, and I am trying to structure our parish and our community so that this is true. Even before Adriana decided to retire, I had moved her to a different job with less oversight of the Hispanic Community, partly because I wanted to make clear that it was not her responsibility to push the Hispanics to pray and to gather and to grow. It is the community’s responsibility to make sure its own members are growing in holiness and making disciples, which is why I work so closely now with our Hispanic Commission.

In addition to using December as an opportunity to pray together, I also want to use it as an opportunity to allow individual families to begin to take responsibility for the faith life of this community. Every night of the novena and of the posadas needs a host, someone to gather people together and lead the prayers. It is my hope that we can find seventeen families to volunteer to host each night. If you need support or guidance, we will absolutely provide it, but you will lead the evening. Traditionally, that family might also provide food for the evening, but that cannot happen this year, so the hosting responsibilities are much easier. We have placed a sign-up sheet in the gathering space for families to sign up, and I hope that you do.

One final thought for today: one of the hardest things about being immigrants is leaving behind the old culture and traditions and being bombarded by a new culture and new traditions. This is supremely difficult. However, it is also an opportunity. Parents can now choose for their children the best parts of both cultures to hand on.

I hope you are being deliberate about what traditions you hand on to your children. Please, please do not give into American consumerism around Christmas. Your Christmas should not be judged by how many presents sit under the tree or how expensive those presents are. This is not at all what Christmas is about, but this is what the United States has turned Christmas into, in pursuit of the almighty dollar. Instead, it is beautiful how spiritual and devotional Advent is in Hispanic Communities. Please try to preserve this. Bring your children to the novena. Bring them to posadas. They need to see something better, something holier than a world obsessed with a fat man who brings them new products. They need to see what it looks like to pray and prepare for Jesus’ coming. They need to see how Catholic cultures, like the cultures most of you come from, have soaked in the Gospel and how this causes them to celebrate Christmas in a much holier way. I hope this December can be a December full of prayer together.

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