Sunday, December 14, 2014

Sunday word, 14 Dec 14

Key to Locked Doors
Third Sunday of Advent B (14 Dec 2014)

Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German Lutheran pastor and prominent theologian in pre-WWII Europe. He is better known for resisting the Nazis and dying as a result. Last summer I learned from a recent biography that Bonhoeffer was foremost a pastor.1 As with you and me, Pastor Bonhoeffer was all his dimensions. Throughout his life Advent may have been the church season most significant to him. Near the end of his young life he wrote a friend: “A prison cell is like our situation in Advent: one waits, hopes, does this or that—meaningless acts—but the door is locked and can only be opened from the outside. That is how I feel just now.”2

What are we to make of his image when today’s scriptures and mass prayers overflow with rejoicing and encourage us to rejoice? I have pondered that. Our Catholic both/and view of life—divine and human—emerged. Like Pastor Bonhoeffer, you and I are all our dimensions; we can delight even in difficult circumstances. We don’t delight in a difficult circumstance; we delight in help we receive or can give. We don’t delight in a difficult circumstance; we delight in another who is with us, even someone as helpless as us.

The words, “the door…can only be opened from the outside,” accurately image Advent. While we can take true and honest delight in much of ourselves, our sources of delight often are outside us: from what our senses take in; our minds and hearts appreciate; and relationships that sustain and strengthen our lives. Advent invites us to refresh our relationship with Jesus and the delight he alone gives. We yearn for Jesus’ return in glory; we recall his first Advent in our world, born a human like all humans. Jesus came from an outside, his divine life, into our humanity. That he came and will come again to bring us fully into his divine life is reason for rejoicing.

The manner of Jesus’ first Advent is also significant. He entered our humanity anonymously; he was born poor in difficult circumstances and a mangy setting. The prophetic modern monk, Thomas Merton, echoed “the outside” when he described the purpose of Jesus’ birth. Our Creator and Redeemer, he said “has come uninvited. But because he cannot be at home in [our world], because he is out of place in it, and yet he must be in it, his place is with those others who do not belong, who are rejected by power, because they are regarded as weak, those who are discredited, who are denied the status of persons, tortured, exterminated. With those for whom there is no room, Christ is present in this world.”3

You and I exercise some power; we have some strength; we enjoy good reputation and comfortable lives. Yet we are all limited. Jesus arrived for us, too. Our shared vocation witnesses to Jesus coming from outside to help us, forgive us and steady us to walk in the singular freedom Jesus offers. We may speak our witness. More often it is unspoken, even anonymous, testimony to the help, forgiveness and freedom we received from our Messiah.

Those served by our unspoken, even anonymous testimonies to Jesus rejoice in ways we may never know. When a person in recovery needs a meeting on Sunday and finds it at a church that makes space available, that one rejoices. When a person without resources to live receives some through a shelter, food bank or kitchen, that one rejoices. When someone bewildered by unfamiliar surroundings or distressed by life finds a person to listen patiently, that one rejoices. Often small actions reflect the light who is Christ Jesus more clearly than great ones. Bringing to mind how we rejoiced when a small action by another did a great thing for us is genuine prayer. It reminds us though we are unable to see Jesus, he is just outside; he is our Key who opens the door onto our true freedom.

In your daily 15 minutes with Jesus this week
  • Rest in the creative love of our triune God.
  • Ask John the Baptizer and your patron saint to present you to Jesus.
  • Chat with him: praise him for dying and rising for you. Thank him for being born human like you and for you.
  • Ask Jesus for grace to welcome him as your Savior, your Key who opens you to your true self and to serve his good news.
  • Close saying slowly the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus gave it to us to free us and to align ourselves with his good news each day. the creative love of our triune God.

Link to this homily’s Spiritual Exercise

  1. Eric Metaxas subtitled his biography Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy. 
  2. Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Christmas SermonsKindle location 28.
  3. Quoted in Daily Dig for December 1.

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