Sermon for the Second Sunday of Advent.

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Epistle

Taken from the letter of St. Paul the Apostle to the Romans
Rom 15:4-13
Brethren: Whatever things have been written have been written for our instruction, that through the patience and the consolation afforded by the Scriptures we may have hope. May then the God of patience and of comfort grant you to be of one mind towards one another according to Jesus Christ; that, one in spirit, you may with one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Wherefore receive one another, even as Christ has received you to the honor of God. For I say that Christ Jesus has been a minister of the circumcision in order to show God’s fidelity in confirming the promises made to our fathers, but that the Gentiles glorify God because of His mercy, as it is written, Therefore will I praise You among the Gentiles, and will sing to Your name. And again He says, Rejoice, you Gentiles, with His people. And again, Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles; and sing His praises, all you peoples. And again Isaias says, There shall be the root of Jesse, and He Who shall arise to rule the Gentiles… in Him the Gentiles shall hope. Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope and in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Continuation ✠ of the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew
Matt 11:2-10
At that time, when John had heard in prison of the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples to say to Him, Are You He Who is to come, or shall we look for another? And Jesus answering said to them, Go and report to John what you have heard and seen: the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead rise, the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who is not scandalized in Me. Then, as they went away, Jesus began to say to the crowds concerning John, What did you go out to the desert to see? A reed shaken by the wind? But what did you go out to see? A man clothed in soft garments? Behold, those who wear soft garments are in the houses of kings. But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is he of whom it is written, ‘Behold, I send my messenger before Your face, who shall make ready Your way before You.’

Homily By Fr. Zepeda : On Perseverance.

“What went you out into the desert to see? A reed shaken by the wind?”

As we continue this beautiful season of Advent, the Church puts before our Eyes, the figure of the precursor of Christ, St. John the Baptist.

The word “precursor” means him who runs before. In this case, a person who runs before the king.

It was the custom in antiquity when a King was to come to his kingdom, or to take possession of a land, to send a soldier, an emissary, running in advance, to warn the people to prepare the roads, and themselves, in order to properly receive the king.

This is the figure of John the Baptist. But John the Baptist did not prepare us to receive Christ only in the sense that he foretold his coming, and that he warned us of what to do. Our Lord also sent John the Baptist to be an example to all Christians, he was meant to lead us by his own life and footsteps.

That’s why our Lord praises St. John, as if to put him before our eyes, and tell us, “this is the one who shows you how you must come to me. How to come and reach me, how to prepare for my coming”.

Among those things that our Lord says about St. John, I would like to speak about one aspect of him: St. John’s Perseverance.

Our Lord said to the crowds: “ What went you out into the desert to see? A reed shaken in the wind?”

Reeds in Palestine grow tall, and they will lean to one direction, as the wind blows, and then to another when the wind changes its course. Here, these weeds represent a man, who changes moods, and convictions, who changes his decision, to one side or the other, depending on the circumstances. It is the picture of an inconstant man, of someone who has no convictions, who does not persevere.

St. John the Baptist is shown to us as the opposite. As a man who abides by the truth, by the truth that God has revealed, whatever, the cost, whatever the consequences in this temporal life. A man of wisdom, who fears rather God than man, who prefers a thousand times to displease men, even the most powerful, even all of them, rather than to displease God even if it was only once.

A prophet. All of these things, are contained and practiced, through the virtue we call “perseverance”.

We hardly ever hear of this virtue, because it seems hard to point the finger at it, it seems hard to identify where it is, when exactly do you practice it.  As Christians, we perhaps rarely think of the practice of this virtue, or of asking God for it.

So what is perseverance?

It is that virtue, by which we continue, without stopping in the practice of the other virtues, particularly those that are necessary to save our souls.

I thought of an example to explain this:

Let’s say that you are working on a computer. And you need power to work, and finish the work. Perhaps it’s something that is so important, that if you don’t finish it, you will lose your job.

Power is the virtue that you are practicing, your work is another virtue that you are practicing, all the other tools you might be using could also be virtues that you are practicing. But if the power fails, and let’s say that there is a power outage, then any virtue amounts to nothing. You didn’t finish the job. You are lost.

But let’s say that when the power goes out, you have a backup battery, a “no-break”, and then you are able to finish the job, even when other things had failed you, thanks to this backup.

This “backup” would be the virtue of perseverance.

You might begin to pray the rosary, to say the night prayers, to gather your family to pray together. But then the power goes away. The virtue of perseverance fails. It will not avail you too much unless you get this virtue, and you continue in the practice of this.

You might be in the state of Grace, maybe quit drinking, or smoking, or watching T.V., or whatever might be. But after a couple of weeks, something happens, and you fall again. You lacked the virtue of perseverance. You won’t see results, unless you practice the virtue of perseverance and continue persistently.

Now, something that is quite important to understand, is that this virtue is not something that just magically comes to you, in such a way that you never again fail, or that you suddenly become a flawless Christian.

As with any other virtue, you must practice it, there is a stage of trial and error, is just like working out, you become stronger and stronger in it, and the more you give God, the more grace God gives you to persevere.

Therefore, the way to gain this virtue, is to keep coming back to it, to renew your resolutions, to retake the practices, to never let them go, no matter how many times you have let them go. Little by little, you will see… that you are indeed persevering.

This virtue is so important these days, and you have seen it, perhaps, without even noticing it. You have seen it, and you have seen the lack in it, but perhaps you couldn’t quite put your finger on it.

When you call others to pray, and no one answers, and you are discouraged and think that you should just quit,  this is the virtue that makes you continue, and go and pray, alone if need be, but without stopping.

When your family, or your friends, do not think the same way you do, and they all approve of something that is sinful, or wrong, and they pressure you to approve it as well, and they call you, and perhaps despise you for it, this is the virtue that keeps you steadfast, that prevents you from caving in, that gives you the strength to please God, even if it means displeasing men.

When you engage in a good work, or endeavor, and difficulties arise, and people complain, and some perhaps murmur, when you are left alone to your devices, and no one steps up to help, this is the virtue that keeps you steady in obedience, steady in the good works undertaken, even if it means working alone, for the Glory of God.

When you are sorely tempted, and things get difficult, and you see those who forget about God living apparently without concerns, while you who try to make it to heaven have to suffer hardships, and contempt, and poverty, and other countless difficulties, this is the virtue that enkindles your hope in heaven, and allows you to continue to reject sin, and puts before your eyes that this life is not forever, and that it is better to suffer here, in order to gain an eternal reward.

And when you are young, and your parents let you out into the world, and the friends, the company, the schools and the workplaces surround you, almost in a choir, telling you to forget your God, to forget your parents, to betray your principles, and sell out your soul to them, to give yourself to pleasures blindly, leaving behind the truths you have learned, this is the virtue that encourages you, and awakes in you holy anger, a true warlike mindset, a holy rebellion against these unlawful kings of the world, and makes you steadfast, reject them, and continue to be loyal to God, to honor your parents, to become a martyr, a saint, to suffer whatever else, rather than losing your faith, and your love for God.

This is in the end, that virtue, that makes you rather an Oak tree, in the kingdom of God, a Column, and not a reed shaken by the wind.

On this advent, and as we prepare for the second coming of Our Lord, let us pray to God, pray daily, and particularly, whenever we come to Mass, let us always ask our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, to give us Perseverance. Remember the words of St. Alphonsus:

“The reward, though promised to him who begins, is only given to him who perseveres… It is not enough to run for the prize, but we must run until we obtain it: ‘So run, that you may obtain,’”

In Nomine Patris

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