Sunday, December 16, 2012

Sunday word, 16 Dec 2012

Power Not Talk
Advent3 C (16 Dec 2012) 
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
[Completed before the shootings in Newton, CT, 14Dec.]
The third Advent Sunday long has been named after the first word of its entrance antiphon: in Latin, gaudete; in English, rejoice. The verb and its noun, joy, coursed through the liturgy of the word. While the gospel did not use either word, responses of the Baptizer to those who appealed to him reflect living from the ancient, common understanding of joy. When we appreciate the meaning the first Christians shared, we better appreciate Christian joy, and better still, are more free to live it.

The people of the ancient Mediterranean—the world of Jesus, of the writings of the New Testament and of the church—shaped Christian thought. It was not all rejection: that Christians rejected
all that pagans embraced. Far from it! The Second Vatican Council affirmed that both then as now, nonbelievers enjoyed a “certain perception of that hidden power which hovers over the course of things and…human history; …This perception and recognition penetrates their lives with a profound religious sense.”1 Many ancients, before and after Jesus, were more religious than many moderns—but that’s another story.

By their experience early Christians transformed the common understanding of joy. Their understanding helps us appreciate that joy in scripture is not happiness. Happiness depends on positive circumstances and outcomes; they condition happiness. Joy exceeds positive and negative experiences. Not a condition, it is a disposition, an attitude. Our proverb, No pain, no gain, was not foreign to ancients. They had their saying, Mαθειν, παθεin: learning life costs endurance.2 Christian joy was a facet of what the first disciples claimed they had experienced: power. Expressed differently with different symbols, power had touched them, transformed them. The giver of this paradoxical power—joy amid trials and life from death—was Holy Spirit. Spirit-power was given not self-made, experienced not talked about. St. Paul was concise: The kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power.3 An attitude, Christian joy is first a gift, frequently a baffling one.

I came to realize I learned it after my father died. I was devastated. The next day after I woke and heard my mother stir, I stood in their doorway as I used to after a bad dream as a child. I told her I missed Dad terribly and how I felt. With soft strength Mom told me she did, too, that she had him 60 years and several times thought she would bury him because of illness. I felt her strength. She was not resigned as she continued that our turn to let him go as he had been with us had arrived, and we would help each other do that.

My mother was not happy. Her life-mate was gone. She had many blue days, as she called them. Yet her suffering did not warp her to become fainthearted or dispirited. Mom was neither, which allowed her to console me. Learning life was excruciatingly costly, yet Mom received power, which graced her to live with her eyes and her heart on tomorrow.

As Advent opened Jesus encouraged us to pray for strength not to let any anxieties of daily life overwhelm power.4 Advent praying, the Advent mood, the Advent hope are summarized in the the season’s refrain: Come, Lord Jesus! Praying it does not hasten Jesus’ return. No one can do that; Jesus will return at the appointed time. Come, Lord Jesus! opens us to receive the consolation, encouragement, enlightenment, hope, peace, patient endurance, fidelity, generosity—in short, the features of divine life the Trinity desires to give us and knows we need before we do. When we welcome their divine life and cooperate with their divine life, we cease to be prisoners of our circumstances. We become empowered and free. How? We receive from our crucified and risen Lord a share in his glorious joy.5 Christian joy, St. Paul reminded, surpasses understanding. It is no less real because it does. It is most real, a divine gift which enables us to live from our hope in Jesus, our crucified and risen Messiah, alive with us now, the one we await. When he returns in glory he will wipe away every tear and make all things new.6

In your daily 15 minutes with Jesus this week 
  • Rest in the Trinity, who creates you each moment.
  • Ask John the Baptizer to present you to Jesus.
  • Chat with Jesus: praise him for becoming human for you; then, share with him your hurts, wounds, your emptiness.
  • After you bear your soul to Jesus, ask him for the grace to welcome consolation from him and from others. (We resist that when we hurt.) 
  • Close, saying slowly the Lord’s Prayer. Praying Jesus’ prayer does not change our circumstances. It helps us welcome being sustained and healed by our Creator and Redeemer; to live though we feel otherwise; and to be ministers of his healing to others.

Link to this homily’s Spiritual Exercise

  1. Its Decree on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions, 2.
  2. Its Greek is rhythmic and rhyming: MAH-thane, PAH-thane. It found its way into Hebrews 12.7. While we think discipline is punishment, to the ancients it was training. Scripture joins training with love. For example: Proverbs 3.11-12; 13.24; Sirach 30.1; 1Corinthians 11.32.
  3. 1 Corinthians 4.20.
  4. Luke 21.34-36.
  5. In the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, Week Four, risen Jesus’ invites the maker of the Exercises to feel and share his glory and his joy [221]. It shapes and colors the entire phase [229].
  6. Revelation 21.4-5.

Wiki-image of the Gaudete incipit is in the public domain: {PD-OLD-100}; {PD-US}. Wiki-image by Enrique López-Tamayo Biosca of the Aramaic for Come, Lord is used by CC BY-SA 2.0.

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