Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Sunday Homilies: Sunday, December 4, 2011 (Second Sunday of Advent)

We're invited during
Advent to go into
darkness and to get a
little bit of light.
Transcript of homily recorded on Sunday, Dec. 4, 2011

By Father Perry D. Leiker

How many liked this last week? Quite a week, huh? Anybody like it?

Was anyone grateful for the darkness?

Well, I was grateful. I didn't like it, but I was grateful, because it thrust me into Advent in a way like I've never recall happening in all my years of living. We were thrust into darkness. We had no choice; and we were longing for the light for a long, long time. Our refrigerators were longing for electricity, and well, we lost a lot of food.

And this is what Advent is. This is why we have this wreath; we get a little more light each Sunday. And when do we have this wreath? As I said last Sunday, "in the middle of the darkest time of the year, the longest nights."

I repeat: We do not believe that Jesus was born on Dec. 25. That when we celebrate it. We have no idea when Jesus was born; there's nothing in the scriptures that tells us. But the reason we celebrate it on the 25th of December is because it's at the height of the winter solstice — the longest nights. And the pagans would celebrate this feast time, called the Feast of Lights. They would bring light into the darkest time; it gave them hope. So the Christians came along and said, "Ah, how brilliant. So we will give you Christ the light, born on the longest night of the year." And that's why we celebrate Dec. 25.

And so we're invited during Advent to go into darkness and to get a little bit of light, a little bit of light until we celebrate the explosion of the Feast of Lights, the feast of Christ who is the light of the world. And most of us go kicking and screaming in the darkness. You see, darkness is more than not having lights (and that was miserable enough for us). But there's all kinds of darkness — rejection, suffering, getting old, dying, losing friends, losing loves, having things taken away from us, going into financial ruin, going to jail, stuck in an addiction. There's all kinds of darkness that fill our lives as individuals and as communities. And we struggle.

So much of the community here is from the Philippines and from Latin America. There still are a significant number of Anglo people and people who were here long ago, and I'm one of those, not from this community, but an Anglo person from this country. And quite frankly, I think I grew up in a very pampered and very materialistic society, very unlike the Philippines and the Latin American countries. Not knocking it, but we're pampered. We have so much. When our lights go out, we go cuckoo over it. In those other parts of the world, they say, "Lights out again? Well, it happens all the time." Am I right? Everyday some electricity is gone, and they just say, "What the heck. That's the way it is here." And my experience, when I've gone down to Latin America and experienced the poor, this is what they always tell me, even the ones who live here, say, "Father, life if hard. La vida es muy duro. It's hard." Because in their poverty they've struggled for basic things and find life very difficult. And when tragedy and things hit their lives, they often don't have somewhere to turn, so where do they go? To their faith. And my experience is — I know this is a gross generalization — people who are poor have to depend upon God because very often they have nothing else. And so their lives, they go into darkness, and they discover God present there.

I grew up in an ordinary family here in the country, but we didn't have money. I had two brothers who lived down in the garage, that was where their bed was. I slept with two of my brothers — three in one bed.  It wasn't two peas in a pod, it was three peas in a pod, and for years never thought a thing of it. Then I get ordained and I was sent to San Marino, the poor community of San Marino, where every child had their own bedroom — I couldn't believe it! And then I'd hear things like, "Mom! Can't we paint my room stripped?! Mom!"

"OK, baby. We'll do it."

And I tried to imagine my saying that to my dad. "Dad! Can I pain the room?"

"Yeah, in five years, if we have some leftover paint."

We just didn't have it. And yet, I had enough pampering around me in this society that I just came to expect it. But Advent calls us into darkness, not to avoid it, but to greet that darkness, to welcome the darkness, to embrace the darkness.

Now, I'm going to tell you a story about Mother Teresa. This is my rendition, because this is as I recall it. Some of you probably have great devotion to her already and are going to tell me I'm wrong on my details, so you can tell me after Mass, but do it gently; I've had a hard week. But this is how I recall it: Mother Teresa, she's a Hungarian sister in a community, say, for 30 years. She happened to be in Calcutta with her sisters, one of the poorest places in the world. There she was in a very nice convent and a school with a huge wall wrapped around it for the wealthy children of the community. Very pampered. Now, sisters live a simple life, but they have all the things that are necessary: they eat each day, they have a warm convent, usually, and it's comfortable. And so she had a comfortable life. Prayed every day to Jesus. I'm sure she prayed three, four times a day and had Mass and her life was dedicated to the Lord. But one day, she was going to the doctor's, and on the way back — as I heard the story — she comes across a man lying in the gutter, filthy, covered with maggots, dying, totally alone, just dying there, people walking over him and around him. And she was so moved, she asked some people to help her and she carried this man back to her convent where she washed him completely, gave him a new cloth, held his hand and prayed with him until he died so he didn't die alone in filth. And her life was completely changed. She was yanked out of the comfort of her circle, her religious life, in this community of 30-some years. And this so changed her, that she began a community whose purpose was going to be to serve the poorest of the poor.

We have some of them down in Lynwood, they got the convent there, and I understand one of the first things they do is say to the pastor, "Could you remove all the beds; we prefer to sleep on a mat on the floor." They try to embrace the simplest of life so that they can serve the poorest of the poor. Now I will say that some very young, idealistic women go into this community longing to do all these poor things and suffer. And I remember growing up in a faith where we were told to suffer. Everyday we should suffer and sacrifice. If you go to a poor country, you don't have to look for sacrifices, they're there all the time. But if you live a pampered life, I guess you have to manufacture them, unless you're realistic and realize all the other kinds of darkness that are in life. You see, when you're poor, when you're ill, when you are physically handicapped, you can't hide. It's right there. But if you have a pretty normal life and pretty good surroundings, you can pretend everything is wonderful. And we go to great lengths to keep the illusion alive, that everything is beautiful. But every one of us suffers darkness — every one of us. Evey parent here has heartache with their children; and if you don't, you will, you will. I'm not a daddy, I'm a father, but not a daddy, but I see it and hear it constantly. It's not easy. And every one of us, probably, will struggle with illness, and all of us — in case you don't know this — are going to die. All of us. It's just part of life. And we've never been through such an economic turn like this unless some of those who remember the Great Depression, if any are alive here. But this has been a rough, rough year or two. Real rough time. I know a friend who just last week lost her home. Really tough. Darkness is there.

But I wonder how many people, that day that Mother Teresa found this man, came upon the same man but with a different reaction. You see, the deepest things in life really happen way down at the level of spirit. This is one of the beauties of all those changes in the liturgy, many of which don't turn me on all that much. But the one that I do like is the one frequently used in the liturgy: The Lord be with you. And with your spirit. And with your spirit. "And also with you" is nice, but it really doesn't really communicate where God really happens to us. It's not out here on the emotions. Our liturgies are beautiful; this music is so wonderful; this beautiful image of the Virgin; our candles and the decorations, the Altar Society did a splendid job. And it touches our emotions. And that's good. The faith comes in through those, too, but if it doesn't get down to the level of spirit, that's where we're changed. You see, a lot of people passed that day. Intellectually, they saw; physically, they saw; emotionally, they saw. In fact, they didn't like what they saw, they turned their head and walked around it, because on that outer level where they experienced it, it wasn't enough. But for whatever reason, after 30 years of being in a convent, praying every single day to Jesus, celebrating the Eucharist, eating and drinking of the body and blood of Christ, every day growing in her faith, she walked by this and she was mortally wounded. It seeped in all the way down into her spirit, the Gospel hit her, and she was changed. And having experienced God at that level of spirit — The Lord be with you. And with your spirit — she was changed. This is Advent. This is Advent, that we would embrace the darkness, not a wreath — this is a symbol — but that we would be willing to go into the darkness of this season; the darkness of our lives; the darkness of our struggles; the darkness of our wants and our yearnings; the darkness of our hopes; the darkness of that which we do not have that we wish we had; the darkness of embracing what is; and in that darkness, that we would open our spirit.

Why? The scriptures says it today: "The mountains, tear them down. The valleys, fill them up and make a highway to the Lord and rush to the Lord." And the promise is — we heard it in that second reading — the Lord will come; he'll come to us in darkness. In fact, that's where most of us are changed the most, in our darkness. There's a little hint of why this is so in the first line of the second reading, it said: "A day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years is like a day." What on earth is the scriptures saying? "A day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years is like a day." That's faith again. It's a language of ... it's trange. Things are topsy-turvy, upside-down, inside-out. We see one thing and experience another. We see ugliness and pain and sorrow, and we're filled with hope and faith and love, because that can happen in faith.

"A day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years is like a day." And we're changed forever by a simple experience, not because our emotions or our mind or our social consciousness saw something, yes, but because it seeped all the way down to the center of our spirit. And in darkness and struggle, but in spirit, we found our God.

Father Perry D. Leiker is St. Bernard parish administrator. Reach him at (323) 255-6142, Ext. 112.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments that are derogatory, attack others or are offensive in nature may be removed. We reserve the right to remove any offensive or off-topic remark.