Homily: 2nd Sunday of Advent (Year A)

NB: This was my 1st homily as a deacon in my home parish, Christ 
the Redeemer, on December 8th, 2019.

Click here for an audio recording of my homily.

And here are the homily notes that I used to prepare:

[Homily in 1 sentence: Live with Christmas joy by thanking God for past, present, and future gifts]

I’ve got a question for you, can anyone remember what it was like to wake up on Christmas morning as a child? How excited you were to open up all the gifts? That’s how I feel right now. I feel like Christmas has come early for me this year. My heart is so full of gratitude for the great gift of being ordained a deacon yesterday and it is such a joy to be here with you today to preach my first Mass in front of both my family and Msgr. Greg, who was the 1st priest I told about my desires to become a priest 8 years ago and he has been a true father figure for me ever since… so I am truly grateful. And so yes! I woke up today with the joy of a child on Christmas morning. And this got me thinking… I want to wake up like this every day! I want to wake up every day with the joy of a child on Christmas morning excited to open up gifts. And I’m guessing… you do as well.

This morning, I texted Msgr. Greg and asked him if he had any words of wisdom for my 1st homily. He texted me back: KISS. I was confused and asked him what that meant. He said: “Keep It Simple Seminarian.” So, I’ll try to keep it simple today and speak about one thing: gratitude. The key to Christmas joy is gratitude and we can live gratefully by thanking God for past, present, and future gifts.

First, we need to thank God for past gifts.

By looking back at our past and thanking God for the gifts that we’ve received, we can live with Christmas joy right now.

 One great practice that I started in seminary was a gratitude journal that I would fill up at the end of every day, thanking God for all the gifts that He gave me. I highly recommend this. It was huge in cultivating an attitude of gratitude. After several years of doing this, I was challenged by a holy priest to take this even further. First, I was challenged to turn this into a conversation of love. For example, I woke up this morning at 5am with a smile on my face & joy in my heart. Thank you, Jesus. I love you. I love you too Richard. Second, St. Paul tells us to “thank God in all situations” – that means even the most difficult and troubling times. Why? Because God can take those difficult and troubling times and turn them into even greater blessings for us.

To give an example, one recent entry in my gratitude journal was thanking God for a really difficult time in my life.  I was on my diaconate retreat 3 weeks ago in Omaha Nebraska. This was an 8-day silent retreat with a priest who, in the words of Fr. Paul Goo, was a Jedi. He could read minds. He was like Padre Pio. In my first session of spiritual direction with him, I shared with him all about the struggles and depression I went through while I was playing college golf in California and the disappointment I felt when I did not turn professional in golf. And then do you know what he said to me in return!? With this great smile, he said, “thanks be to God!” I was shocked and asked him to explain. He said: “God wanted to get you out of golf. Think of how miserable you would have been if you stayed in golf. God wanted you here to become a priest!” As I prayed more about it, I was filled with a joy

So, start a gratitude journal and start thanking God for your entire past because He can take it all and turn it into future blessings.

Second, we need to thank God for presents gifts.

By looking at our present situation and thanking God for the gifts that He is giving us right now, we can live with Christmas joy.

Just think of all the gifts that God has given you right now. If I took a poll right now, some top answers would probably be family, health or a good job… but there is one gift above all that we need to thank God for right now… Can you guess? What’s the one gift? Jesus.

Since we often forget to thank God for being with us, the Church has given us the message of John the Baptist in today’s Gospel, who said: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” You might ask, Deacon Richard, what does “repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” have to do with gratitude for God being with us? Well, let’s take a deeper look at these words… the word “repent” is really interesting. It comes from the Greek word, metanoia, which literally means to turn your mind. And the “kingdom of heaven”, we know in Scripture, stands for all that we desire in life, the fulfillment of every promise that God has made, the fullness of joy. So, when John the Baptist says: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” He is telling us: “Turn your mind and look. All that you desire in life is here, right now. You don’t have to wait any longer. Jesus is here. Turn away from your old life of sin. Turn away from ingratitude and bitterness. And turn to Jesus.

What’s amazing is that Jesus was actually there in the crowd when John preached this message and no one knew it. So, it was really true then and it’s pretty true now. Jesus is here among us. He is always with us, watching over us, loving us, guiding us, blessing us with gifts.

Mother Teresa said that the key to JOY was found in the letters, JOY, which stood for Jesus, Others, Yourself. Keep that order of priority and you’ll have JOY.

Third, we need to thank God for future gifts.

We just spoke about past gifts, present gifts, now future gifts… By looking toward our future and thanking God for the gifts that He will give us, we open our hearts to Christmas joy.

 One of my favourite stories about gratitude comes from Fr. Solanus Casey, an American priest who recently passed away & was known to be a miracle worker. One day, he had a young couple come to him with their 16-month year old baby girl, Elizabeth, who was dying of leukemia. As far as the medical profession was concerned, they were at the end of the road. But this young couple had heard about this miracle worker, Fr. Solanus Casey. And they went to him with their little Elizabeth. After listening patiently to the story of their tragic situation, Fr. Casey responded: “Thank God ahead of time!” [repeat]. Fr. Casey counseled the parents not to let sadness and worry frustrate God’s plans. Instead, they should thank God now for the good He would certainly do for their daughter in the future. Then Fr. Casey bent down, handed Elizabeth a piece of candy, and whispered to the dying child, “You’re going to be all right.” Upon returning to their home in Michigan, the specialists at the hospital could not believe Elizabeth was the same child they had seen only days before. All traces of the leukemia had left her. She was alert, healthy and full of JOY. Wow.

So, what future gift should you thank God for? This morning, I thanked God in advance for all the blessings of this day. For the gift of this day. For the gift of my life. For the ability to be His deacon and preach now to others about Jesus. And I thanked God in advance for the healing of some friends who are sick and I thanked God in advance for the conversion of some friends who are far away from God.

It could be something as simple as thanking God when you wake up for all the gifts of the day – I do this every day – or for God helping you at work or school today or something even bolder like the conversion of a family member who has fallen away from Church.

Know that thanking God in advance is not an act of presumption on our behalf but rather an act of trust in God’s providence, who, as St. Paul says, can do way more good than all we ask for.

By thanking God in advance for all the future gifts that He will give us, we open our hearts to Christmas joy.

And so here we are at Mass. For most of my life, I would just count down the minutes until Mass would end. But now, this morning, I was counting down the minutes until Mass would begin… just like Christmas morning as a child. I wanted to wake everyone up and start opening gifts!

 As I entered the Church this morning and blessed myself with holy water, like many of you have done today, I thanked God for the past gift of my baptism, a time when God chose me to be part of His family and said “You are my beloved son! In whom I am well pleased.” As I’m preaching this homily right now, I’m thanking Jesus for being with me, giving me the words to say. And as I prepare myself to receive Jesus in Holy Communion, I’m thanking God for the future gift of Himself. Since I’ve been talking a lot about Christmas, in language of Christmas, we could say that God comes to us in the Eucharist as a Gift under the wrapping of bread. So, you’ll only see bread because that’s the wrapping that Jesus hides Himself under. Jesus wants to give Himself to us as a Gift and He wants us to receive this gift with the joy of children on Christmas morning

One of the greatest gifts of my life is being able to go to Mass every day and receive Jesus in Holy Communion. So, I realized, since I get to go to Mass every morning… every morning is truly Christmas morning for me!

As we prepare ourselves to receive the greatest Gift of Jesus in the Eucharist, let us choose to live today with Christmas joy by thanking God for past, present and future gifts.

Comments

  1. Congratulations Richard on your ordination to the Diaconate. Thanks be to GOD.
    ~ wendy (in Melbourne)

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