Homily on the First Sunday of Advent
It is the hour now for you to awake from sleep. For our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. (Rm13:11)
“It is the hour now for you to awake from sleep. For our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed”
(This homily was delivered at the Mass of Thanksgiving, the First Eucharist after the Dedication Mass at St. John Paul II Church, Cedar Springs, Michigan)
For those who are involved in the dedication of this church, although unintended, we are pleased that the dedication takes place on this First Sunday of Advent, the first day in the new Liturgical Year. A new year calls for a resolution in our spiritual life. The words of St. Paul, found in the second reading today, are a source of inspiration: “It is the hour now for you to awake from sleep. For our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed” Rm13:11).
“For our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed!” Salvation is what we hope this new liturgical year will help us experience deeply. Salvation is the reason why this parish was established on April 12, 2013, the cornerstone of this church was blessed on August 19, 2018, and this church is dedicated today-December 1, 2019. This special day offers us an opportunity to ponder on the meaning of salvation.
We begin our reflection on the very name of our Lord Jesus, which was “Given by the angel at the time of the Annunciation, the name ‘Jesus’ means ‘God saves’. The name expresses his identity and his mission, ‘because he will save his people from their sins’ (Matthew 1:21). Peter proclaimed that ‘there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we can be saved’ (Acts 4:12” (Compendium of CCC, no. 81). Salvation, then, is the forgiveness of sins and restoration of friendship with God: “Salvation comes from God alone” (CCC no. 169). We pray the beautiful antiphon, before the proclamation of the Gospel, to express our heart’s desire: “Show us Lord, your love; and grant us your salvation” (cf. Ps 85:8).
“It is the hour for you to awaken from your sleep!” To awake people from the sleep of “spiritual death” and to be vigilant for the salvation of the Lord is the mission of the Church. The Gospel of Matthew, for our reflection on the first day of the liturgical year, mentions the Son of Man is coming like the “day that Noah entered the ark “(Mt 24:38). This reference has been the inspiration for church buildings to be constructed like an ark. Just like Noah, who was vigilant, entered the ark so as be saved from the flood, so now the people need to enter the Body of Christ, the Church so as to be nourished by God’s Word and Sacraments, especially in Baptism and Holy Eucharist, so as to be saved from the flood of evil forces in our earthly lives. In The City of God, St. Augustine compared the way that Noah, his family, and the animals all entered the ark through a door on its side (Genesis 6:16) to the way we enter the Church through the side of Christ, which was pierced on the cross and released blood and water. “And its having a door made in the side of it certainly signified the wound which was made when the side of the Crucified was pierced with the spear; for by this those who come to Him enter; for thence flowed the sacraments by which those who believe are initiated.” The physical building of the church is indeed a sign of vigilance/awakening for the time of salvation of our God.
“It is the hour for you to awaken from your sleep!” Being conscious of her role to awaken people for salvation–church buildings have traditionally been constructed with bells. In fact, we look forward to the addition of a bell tower here at St John Paul II Parish when the second phase of our master plan is completed. From this day forward, the parishioners of this parish are to become, metaphorically, the bells that awaken family members, friends, coworkers, and acquaintances to the religious nature of each human person. A human being is created in the image and likeness of God. We are created to love and to be loved. In other words, we all long for a relationship with God, and this relationship brings us salvation!
Today, the parish of St. John Paul II gives thanks the Lord and to all of you for your sacrifice and devotion, in making this day a reality. I would like to especially thank our benefactors, the Erhardt Construction Team, AMDG Architects, and the many dedicated workers who have worked so diligently on this very meaningful project, this visible sign of salvation to the community. Please pray that everyone who walks through these doors will become the bells of salvation, that we will truly be Church, and awaken people to the time of salvation of our God. May we do so by our words and actions, in fact, by our very lives. May our bells resound the words of the psalmist: “I rejoiced because they said to me: We will go up to the house of the LORD”(Ps 122:1). Let the bells of salvation ring so that from this day onward, borrowing the words of Isaiah in the first reading, our friends, family members, and neighbors will say: “Come, let us climb the LORD’s mountain, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may instruct us in his ways, and we may walk in his paths” (Is 2:3).
May the joyful, warm, and welcoming bells in us ring and bring all God’s people to the mountain of the Lord, the altar of Eucharistic sacrifice, so that the Lord will feed us with the Bread of Life and quench our thirst with the Precious Blood of the Lamb of God. During this Thanksgiving, we pray: Almighty Father, may we be Church, i.e., the awakening bells for salvation.
Reading 1 IS 2:1-5; Responsorial Psalm PS 122: 1-2, 3-4, 4-5, 6-7, 8-9; Reading
2 ROM 13:11-14; Alleluia Verse CF. PS 85:8; Gospel MT 24:37-44