December 4, 2005 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Second Sunday of Advent
Reading I (Isaiah 40:1-5,9-11) Reading II (2 Peter 3:8-14)
Gospel (St. Mark 1:1-8)
In the first reading today, the prophet Isaiah calls out, Comfort, give comfort to My people, says the Lord. Then he goes on to talk about how there will be one crying out in the desert to make straight the way of the Lord, and how the Lord is going to shepherd His people. If we look at the context of it, we see that all of these things are connected. As we hear first of all, the comfort for the people is that their service has come to an end, that is, they have paid back double for their sins and everything is expiated. So we see that, on the one hand, the Lord is the Judge. He is the One Who has to mete out the punishment for sin. At the same, as we go along to the end of the reading, he talks about the mercy and the gentleness of God as the Shepherd leading His flock and feeding them, caring for them. We see then that God is both the Judge and the Shepherd.
When we look, once again, at what it is we are celebrating and preparing for in this Advent season, it is for the two comings of Christ, the coming of Christ as the gentle Shepherd, as the little Baby who came to us in human form, the One Who is so kind, so gentle, and so merciful; yet we also prepare for the day of the Second Coming, when we are told that He is going to come to judge the living and the dead and the world by fire. Saint Peter tells us in the second reading that the world–the heavens and the earth, the universe, everything we can see, everything that is material–is going to be passing away in fire. It is all going to be destroyed. He asks us, then, if this is the case, if we know this is the situation, what kind of people ought we to be?
We have the comfort of God, we have our gentle Shepherd, we have the teaching of Christ and of His Church, and we know the way we are supposed to walk. We also know that we have a Judge, One Who is going to judge our actions, as well as our motives, what we have done and what we have failed to do and why we did what we did. We know that day is coming for each and every one of us. We will all have to stand before the judgment seat of Christ. And one day, on the last day, there will be the General Judgment as well.
Each one of us will have our particular judgment where we will stand individually before the Lord and every single thing we have done will be revealed to us, and we will have no response. There will be no opportunity to try to state our case because it is God Himself Who is going to show us what we did and why we did it. We are not going to be able to lie to Him and tell Him: “That wasn’t really the reason why I did what I did.” We are not going to be able to try to fool Him or try to get away with anything. He knows exactly what we did and He knows exactly why we did it, and we will all have to answer to all of it.
Then, on the last day, there will be the General Judgment. That is when every single soul, from both heaven and hell, will be gathered together, and there God is going to show to everyone all of the accumulated sins from the beginning of the world to the end. He is going to show us His entire plan. We will all be able to see the effect of our sins, as well as the effect of our good. All of the heretics are going to be presented with the saints that God raised up to crush their heresy. And all of us will be able to see the mercy of God, just how much He has forgiven. Every soul in hell is going to be able to recognize: “All that I needed to do was repent, and God would have forgiven me too.”
If this is the case, and we look at that original statement from Isaiah–Give comfort to My people–again, as I mentioned earlier, all of this is connected and it is why the Church presents it to us. How is it that we are going to have the comfort of God? How is it that we are going to be prepared for judgment? How is it that we are going to know His mercy? It is very simple. It is to come to Him as the Judge and as the Shepherd in the confessional, and to confess our sins. The people, we are told in the Gospel, came to Saint John the Baptist and they were baptized as they confessed their transgressions. They had to be repentant of their sins. It is not enough just to simply acknowledge that we did something wrong; we need to repent and we need to change our lives.
Remember what happens in the confessional. It is such an incredibly beautiful sacrament. In fact, perhaps the fact that it seems to us so incredible is why so many of us refuse to take part in it, or we want as little to do with it as we can. Satan has blinded us to the beauty of God’s mercy. Remember that when you come to Confession your sins are forgiven. Now that sounds cute and trite, but it is not; it is anything but. The fact that your sins are forgiven means they are destroyed. It means they are removed from your soul and they are obliterated for all eternity, that from the moment the priest gives you sacramental absolution those sins are no longer there. It means that when God looks at your soul He sees a soul that is pure; He sees a soul that is without sin. Now, obviously, God knows everything and He knows what we did, but the reality is that through the Blood of Christ our souls are washed clean. Our sins are not covered up; they are removed and they will never, ever be heard of again.
If you come before Our Lord in the confessional and you are forgiven of your sins, the mercy of God, the comfort of God, and the grace of God are all going to be given to you in abundance. You come before Him as the gentle Shepherd, Who will lift you up and place you on His shoulders and carry you safely home. If, on the other hand, you choose not to come to Confession, not only do you continue to walk through life with the sins you have committed on your soul, dragging you down; but more than that, you will (as all of us will) stand before God on the last day of your life, on the day of your particular judgment, and every single thing that is on your soul will have to be answered to. But if you confess them and they are forgiven in this life, you will not have to answer to them; you already have. You have already acknowledged to God what you have done, or what you should have done but did not, and you have been forgiven. So on the Day of Judgment, as God goes down the list of all of the things, anything that you have confessed in the confessional and has been forgiven will not be mentioned. It is gone. It does not exist anymore. He has destroyed it, and so He will not bring it up again.
These are concepts that most of us cannot really grasp very well. In order to make the point clear when I go over to the school and talk to the kids, I will say to them, “If I were to come up to you and punch you as hard as I could in the nose right now, and then I was really, really sorry for what I did and I came to you and asked you to forgive me, do you think you could do so?” They will eventually say “yes.” And I say, “But do you think you would ever forget it? You’re going to be telling your grandchildren one day about the day this priest punched you in the face. But with God it is different. When He forgives, He forgets, because He looks not at what He knows you have done; He looks at the state of your soul, and the sins are not there because He has removed them. Therefore, they are gone.” So if the question comes up, He looks at your soul and says, “I don’t see that there.” It is gone forever.
That is the mercy that is going to be extended to us. That is the mercy He wants to extend to us, but we have to make the choice. The people had to go out to John the Baptist. He was out in the desert near the Dead Sea at the Jordan River. He was not an ordinary guy. We are told that he was clothed in camel’s hair and he ate grasshoppers and wild honey. Just think if John the Baptist were alive today. He would be in a psych ward because we would have decided he was insane: “Nobody dresses like that, and who would eat grasshoppers, after all? The guy’s really weird, isn’t he?” Jesus said that he is the holiest man to ever walk the face of the earth, that there is no greater man born of woman than John the Baptist. But we, in all of our human wisdom, would declare him to be insane and we would try to lock him up. But the people of that time recognized the holiness of this man. And he did not come to them–they came to him. He preached to them and he baptized them for the forgiveness of their sins.
Now Our Lord waits for us. We have to make the decision to come to Him. He has come to us. He has prepared the way. He has done everything on His part. There is nothing from God’s side that stands in the way, but on our part, the voice still cries out in the desert: Prepare the way of the Lord! The desert is your heart. We have to level all of the mountains and we have to fill up all of the valleys and we have to make the rough ways smooth. Jesus has already done that from His side; now we have to do the same from ours. He has come to us, but He is there in the desert. He is waiting for us to come to Him. Are we willing to humble ourselves? Are we willing to come to our gentle Shepherd, Who is also our just Judge, but Who is waiting right now to extend His mercy to us? If we refuse His mercy, then on the last day of our lives His judgment will be ours. The choice is entirely ours. He is crying out in the desert; He is the voice; He is the One Whom John the Baptist preached when he said, One greater than I is coming after me. Will we recognize Him? Will we come to Him? That is the question.
He wants to offer us His comfort. He wants to be able to say to us, “Your sins are forgiven. Your guilt is expiated.” He wants to put us up on His shoulders and carry us safely home. But for that to happen, we have to choose it; to live our lives, as Saint Peter says, in holiness and devotion; to change and become truly holy. Not just to go through the motions, not to be mediocre, but to pray, to live a truly Christian life, and to strive for true holiness in union with Jesus Christ. If we know that all of this stuff of the world is passing, why do we put so much emphasis on it? If we know that everything material is going to be gone, why is it such a priority? When we know that what is spiritual will last forever, why do we pay it such little attention? That is what Our Lord wants us to look at: the mercy that is being offered–if only we will avail ourselves of it, to enter into the desert of our hearts and to make straight the way of the Lord, to prepare a path, to repent of our sins and to confess them, and to receive His mercy, not only for this life but for the Day of Judgment and for all eternity.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.