Saturday, November 29, 2008

"In Principio Erat Verbum"

"In the beginning was the Word"... and so, as promised, this First Sunday of Advent begins a new feature here on the pages: the "Word of the Week."

In a nutshell, drawing on the current celebrations of the Pauline Year, the recent call for a "Year of Preaching" and these pages' greatest strength -- namely, their readership -- the intent is simply to shine a light on the Gospel as it's proclaimed on the ground. Hopefully with time, these will combine to reflect the diversity of situations and approaches all present in this Wide World of (One) Church, and be a useful resource, both spiritual and practical, for preachers and pewfolk alike; after all, doctrine and practice, teaching and example, Word and witness, intersect in no place more prominent than the parish pulpit at the Sunday Eucharist... and from ambo and altar, back into the world.

For the record, the idea behind this literally just popped into my head (...and, God willing, may the rest fall into place). But as the thought just so happened to strike while flipping through the homilies section on the new website of St Paul's Cathedral in Worcester, to give credit where it's due and thanks for the unwitting inspiration that brought the series about, our first "Word" comes from the Massachusetts landmark by way of its rector, Msgr James P. Moroney.

Before diving in, though, it might be best to spend some time with this Sunday's Readings first....

* * *
I remember the day that Gerry died, as Mary held his hand. She wept. Oh how she wept as she clung to his body in the hopes of somehow not losing the fifty-seven years of married life they had lived and loved together. The kids tried to console her, but it was of little use. She just needed to cry until she couldn’t cry anymore. The pain and the emptiness was deeper than I could ever imagine.

She spent the next days and weeks longing for Gerry more than she had ever longed for anything ever before. She so wanted him to come back that every creak of the floorboard and shadow around the corner made her heart leap in hope.

I lost track of Mary, but bumped into her again about a year later. She was still sad, but not as desperate as the last time I had seen her. I inquired how she was doing and she told me about the day that made all the difference.

She had gone to Church and she was sitting all alone in the pew staring at the crucifix above the tabernacle, she said. When all it once it occurred to her that it was not Gerry for whom she longed, but God. The God who she prayed would forgive Gerry’s sins. The God who would keep her in his grace until the last day. The God who had gone to prepare a place for Gerry and for her and for all who loved others as he had loved them.

And Her waiting for Gerry was just a shadow of her deepest longing for God, her desire for love, and her desire to live in God and to know peace with him forever.

We all ache for God, and we wait…

The addict in the alley behind the Cathedral waits:
for a God who will come and remove all that enslaves him...

The single mother waits:
for a day when she no longer has to work 54 hours,
a night when she can sleep eight,
a life when she’ll finally know the kids will be ok.

The soldier in a ditch in Iraq waits:
for a morning when there are no more explosions of IEDs,
and every look is not feared as the precursor to an assault,
and you don’t have to bury your new best friends.

The old man in the nursing home waits:
for the day he will no longer be alone,
when pain will no longer be his most constant companion,
and when he can once again rest in the embrace of her whom he loved.

The prisoner on death row waits:
for a place where he will no longer be seen as evil,
for a life that makes sense,
for a time when love can be given and received,
for the coming of a God who will love him.

The investment banker waits:
for the day when he’s not gripped by the fear
that he’s about to lose everything,
for the day when he can count his value
in the quality of his love rather than the size of his profit.

The little child waits
within her mother’s womb:
for a world that will welcome her.
and parents that will love her,
and a country who will protect her.

We all wait in joyful hope, with baited breath, as we gaze toward the Eastern skies in expectation of the one who rises with healing in his wings…

Exiled in a Babylon of our own selfishness, we cry out: “rend the heavens, O Lord, and come down to us!” Yet he waits for us in that confessional, ready to embrace us pick us up on his shoulders and carry us home to himself.

Longing to be loved, orphaned by our infidelity and broken promises, we cry out “Why do you let us wander and harden our hearts?” Yet he waits on that altar, to feed us with himself and to make us sons and daughters of his Father, to live in us that we might live in him.

Frightened that we have been abandoned, strangers in a strange desert, we cry out: “Let us see your face and we will be saved!” Yet he waits for us in the poor, the sick, and the old, ready to console our frightened spirits.

We wait in joyful hope. The part of us that is afraid to confess that secret sin. The part of us that doesn’t think it’s possible to forgive what ‘that one’ did or that God could really forgive me. The part of us that cries in the middle of the night. The part which feels empty and alone. The part that’s overwhelmed and confused. The part which amidst all the din and doubt, waits…waits in silence for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ upon a cloud in all his glory.

Get ready my brothers and sisters. Get ready! “Be watchful! Be alert! Go to confession, celebrate the Sacred Mysteries, and pray! Feed the poor. Go visit the prisoners and the old people in nursing home. Find the one you’ve not yet forgiven and call him right now.

Make your heart a manger to receive your king, for he is coming. He is coming very soon!
* * *
Reflecting his prior incarnation -- namely, a dozen years as the US church's Worship Czar -- Moroney's handbook on The Mass Explained is fresh on the shelves.

For purposes of coordination, though, a couple quick notes for future Words: first, again, the Advent lineup is set and open call for homilies begins with each of the four Masses of Christmas.

Yet already, and gratefully, more Yuletide sermons have flooded in than could be posted for the remainder of your narrator's lifetime, and no words could say enough thanks for the incredible response. Of course, the door's still well open for 'em, but the easiest timetable going forward is that texts for a particular Sunday be beamed over anywhere between the preceding Tuesday and Friday; if all goes according to plan, each week's "Word" will appear at 5pm Eastern Saturday (2200 GMT; Sunday morning in Australia, late-night in Europe, etc.). One will likewise run for holydays of obligation -- and, for the movable feasts of Epiphany, Corpus Christi and Ascension, a preach both on the "universal" date and its transferred observance.

Per usual, more as it gets figured out.

Apologies for the mundane housekeeping, but as with everything else here, it all relies on the input and support of the readership. All thanks in advance to all those so kind to lend a hand, along with everyone who has in every way under the sun these last four years. For whatever it's worth, hopefully this little add-on'll do a bit of good for the lot of us.

Again, a Happy New Year and Blessed Advent to one and all.