Brothers and sisters, welcome to Advent! Welcome to the beginning of a new Church year! And thank you for welcoming me today as I begin to serve you! Because there are these three “beginnings,” I felt that it was a good idea to preach at all the weekend Masses, to help give you an idea of what you might find in me, what I am like, and what I am about. You are understandably curious about me and I am curious about you all as well, and I Iook forward to getting to know all of you!
In today’s Gospel, Jesus said there will be two people in the field working, one will be taken into the Kingdom, one will be left behind. Two working at the mill, one will be taken, one will be left behind. What is the difference between the two: why is only one taken, and why is one left behind?
Before I get to that, there is a question that I normally ask people when I am trying to get to know them, and I will ask it myself today, and I will even try to answer it for you. The question is: what is the most important thing that I want you to know about me?
I think the answer for me is two-fold and the second part depends on the first part. The first answer is that I want to be holy. I want to go to Heaven when I die. I want to live in the eternal embrace of God the Father in His Kingdom. You see, I am not holy, but I want to be. I have sins, I have sinfulness, I don’t always pray enough, I don’t always love enough, I don’t always work hard enough, and I don’t always do the right thing. But, I want to do better, and I want to do so with God’s grace, such that at the end of my life, God will say to me: “well done, my good and faithful servant.” That’s the first most important thing about me that I want you to know: I want to be holy. I want to go to Heaven.
The second most important thing about me that I want you to know is that I want all of you to be holy as well. Not only is that my appointed mission, but it is also my deep desire. From the moment I sent in the letter requesting to be considered for the Administrator of this Parish, I have been praying for all of you. From the moment the Cardinal called me to ask me to minister to you, I have been begging the Lord to make me worthy enough to help you find Him more deeply in your lives. It is my deepest hope that you will join me on this journey towards the Lord. We are on the same path — I am no different in this from any of you. Let us grow more holy together!
Before we say that this is too much, before we say that there is no way we can be holy, before we think that this is beyond any of us, let us remember that the Church of Jesus Christ has been making Saints for 2000 years. And…there is a plan. It’s not my plan, it is the plan of the Church that has made people grow in holiness for centuries. I hope everyone here joins me in trying to stay laser-focused on this plan.
There are four parts to what I think we should center upon. First, prayer. No doubt about it, this is the beginning and end of everything. Before any important decision in Jesus’s life, and routinely in Jesus’s life, He prayed. And it was not merely rote memorized prayers, although we know He prayed the psalms. It was deep, meditative, contemplative prayer where He shared His whole life with His heavenly Father. On this journey towards holiness, we must seek to make our prayer deeper and more meaningful every day.
Second, the Eucharist. This assembly of the People of God in this local Parish is paramount to attaining holiness. We are not individuals as Christians, we are members of Christ’s Body, and He gathers us together each week. We come to praise God the Father through Him as members of His Body. We come to thank Him for all of the blessings in our lives. We come to re-experience Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross for us to make us holy, to make His Bride, the Church, holy. We come to be nourished with the fruit of that sacrifice, the very Body and Blood of our Lord. This is not symbolic — this is real. And, it is necessary for each one of us.
Third, Reconciliation. To become fruitful, a plant must be pruned from time to time. To become holy, we must be pruned also. The bad parts must be cut off. The good parts must be shaped. The Sacrament of Reconciliation does this for us. We are all sinners and we are in need of God’s forgiveness. We cannot become holy without being forgiven and experiencing God’s forgiveness. That is the beauty of the Sacrament — when we hear those words: “May God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins,” God’s forgiveness and grace is given to us. If we stay away from confession, we wither, rot, and die.
Fourth, and people might not like this one. Heck, I don’t like this one! Asceticism. Asceticism means to deny ourselves, not just of bad things, but also of things that are good, for the sake of a greater good. People who aspire to be athletes do this all the time — they watch what they eat, they exercise, they focus on goals. We can do no less if we aspire to be holy! Traditional ways of practicing asceticism, in addition to increasing more fruitful prayer are fasting, almsgiving, and service. When we fast, we deny ourselves of one good, that is food, for the sake of a greater good, that is God. When we give monetarily to the Church or to the poor, we deny ourselves of one good, our hard-earned money, for the sake of a greater good, that is God’s Church and all of His Children. When we give of ourselves in service, we deny ourselves of the freedom of doing what we want when we want it, for the sake of a greater good, laying down our very lives for others.
So, brothers and sisters, we begin Advent and we begin a new Church year. When there were two people in the field, one was taken to the Kingdom, and one was left behind. When there were two people at the mill, one was taken, and one was left behind. Why? Holiness is the answer. I think that at times when there are new beginnings, it is always good to check ourselves and to decide our path. I will try to wake up everyday focusing on holiness. Everything I do here, I will try to have this destination in mind. I hope you will join me on this journey.