The following homily was delivered by Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde on the First Sunday of Advent, December 1, 2003, at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Arlington.
A Blessed New Year to you all! You must be thinking: "Is the bishop confused? Today is December 1, not January 1. Why is he wishing us a blessed new year? Or, did I misunderstand him?" No, you heard correctly! I did say "a blessed new year to you all!" No, I am not confused; I fully realize that today is December 1, not January 1. I wish you a blessed new year because today is, in fact, the first day of a new Church year. The Season of Advent, which began with Evening Prayer yesterday, ushers in each new Church year, each new liturgical year. God in His great love gives us another year of grace and favor, to grow more deeply into the image and likeness of our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ!
Last Sunday, as we celebrated the Solemnity of Christ the King, we were reminded that the Lord Jesus must be first in our lives, that He must be the King of our hearts, that in Him and through Him and with Him we must live lives which reflect the Gospel of life and love, of justice and peace, of hope and unity. This Sunday, we are being given a brand new year in which to deepen our union with Christ and with the members of His Body the Church, so that His Kingdom may more fully penetrate our world.
How are we to make good use of this new Church year, this gift of God's grace and favor, this added sign of His Mercy? In today's Gospel passage, Jesus tells us: "Be watchful! Be alert! … What I say to you, I say to all: ‘watch!'" Yes, we will grow into deeper union with the Lord Jesus if we are alert to His coming to us. The very word "Advent" means "coming." The Season of Advent has a two-fold purpose: to help us prepare to relive the Lord's first coming, which we do on Christmas, and to help us prepare for His second coming, which He will accomplish at the hour of our death and at the end of time. In between these two comings of the Lord, there is an extended period of time in which He comes to each of us in mercy and varied ways. This in-between period flows from Christ's first coming and leads to His second coming. This new Church year is part of this extended time. Each day, the Lord will come to us. Will we be watchful and alert? Will we be sensitive to His comings and respond with obedient faith and surrendering love? St. Augustine offers us wise counsel when he says: "Let us not resist his first coming, so that we may not dread his second" (cf. Liturgy of the Hours, vol. 4, p. 535).
This year, our God desires to continue molding us into the image of His Son. Did we not hear in today's first reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah: "Yet, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay and you the potter: we are all the work of your hands." God will be faithful to His desire and plan for us as St. Paul reminds us in today's second reading from his First Letter to the Corinthians. "God is faithful, and by him you were called to fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord." The question for us is: will we be faithful and persevering in our response to His continuing call to holiness? Will we be watchful and alert as Jesus comes to us each day in different ways?
As I said, many are the ways in which the Lord comes to us each day. He comes in prayer. This Advent, this new Church year, will we make the time every day to open our minds and hearts in prayer? Will we, like Mary, allow the Holy Spirit, referred to in the Gospel as God's finger, to mold Jesus more deeply within our beings? Under His guidance and direction, will we respond: "Here I am, Lord; I come to do your will? How watchful and alert will we be?
The Lord comes in His life-giving sacraments, especially Eucharist and Penance. Will we be sensitive to His word as it is proclaimed in the first part of the Mass — the Liturgy of the Word? Will we be eager to receive Jesus who comes to us in Holy Communion during the second part of the Mass, the Liturgy of the Eucharist? Will the liturgical renewal intended by the Revised General Instruction to the Roman Missal take root in us, enabling us to pray more fervently as the Lord's worshipping community, the Church at prayer? Will every sacramental celebration find us alert?
The Lord comes in the daily crosses of life, whether large or small. Whether in our physical, emotional or spiritual lives, the cross becomes evident. Will we be watchful and alert to realize that Christ walks with us as we take up the cross, that He carries it with us?
The Lord comes in those who are needy and poor. He identifies Himself with the hungry, the thirsty, the ill, the grieving, those imprisoned and abandoned. Will we be watchful and alert to see Him in these our suffering sisters and brothers and respond to their needs? Next week's collection for our diocesan Catholic Charities will give us a tangible opportunity to respond in His name, revealing His love.
Yes, the Lord is coming to us in so many ways this new Church year. Each day, He stands at the door of our hearts and knocks. Will we be watchful and alert to hear, to open, to welcome? This new Church year can be such a time of grace as we are molded more and more into the image of Jesus each day, each time each day, may we say with our lives: "Come, Lord Jesus, come!" We pray: "Make this new Church year a time of conversion and spiritual rebirth. Lord Jesus, bring me closer to you in faith, in hope and in love until the day comes when you come to bring me home. Amen."
Now you know why I am wishing you all: "A Blessed New Year!"