Saturday, December 13, 2008

"Let Us Rejoice": A Gaudete "Word"

With apologies for the slight delay, we now turn to our "Word of the Week" for this "Pepto Papa Sunday" ( some veteran readers have taken to calling it).

Of course, this is only the fourth one, but over time, the choice of preachers for our weekly homily will often reflect a particular place or niche not just in church life, but what's going on outside the walls. With John the Baptist such a key figure in the Advent readings, and given the emerging medium of which these pages are a grain, some might've detected the thread of the kickoff group: those pulpiteers who are making straight the highway not just in their parishes, but online, too. Ergo, we turn to another blogging pastor for this Gaudete Sunday.

Tomorrow's Boston Globe runs a story on the "stunning turnaround" of St John's Seminary, where enrollment's doubled over the last two years. It's just the latest sign of hope from a local church that, seven years ago next month, suddenly became ground zero of the greatest scandal Stateside Catholicism has ever known.

These days, though, one can see many instances of "first light" in the Beantown church -- that pre-dawn vantage is where today's (optional) rose vestments find their root. And as its bicentennial year draws to a close, one of these lights that's gone on to shine far beyond New England's mother-see is Fr Austin Fleming, the good and gentle soul behind A Concord Pastor Comments -- a page that's being discovered by an ever-growing number of folks looking for a quality, earthy spiritual refill through the week.

A man of liturgy and lover of the Word, it's a special joy to share Fleming's Gaudete homily for his parishioners at Holy Family on historic Concord Green...

...but first, as always, The Readings.

* * *
I’m usually pretty good
about not opening Christmas presents until Christmas day
– no matter early I receive them.

But I was recently presented with a gift from a group of folks
who insisted I open it right then and there,
- and rather than disappoint them - I gave in.

And the gift was a TomTom: a remarkable global positioning device
for my car – and a most amazing piece of technology
with a screen for visual mapping
and a speaker for voice prompts along the way.

The TomTom is amazing!

It immediately knows exactly where you are
– even if you don’t know where you are!

You tell it where you want to go - and it charts your trip for you.

It knows every highway and street you might take
and provides you with the most direct route
so that you can get there with the least amount of difficulty.

It constantly records the speed at which you’re traveling,
telling you if you’re going too fast or too slow.

The visual neither speeds ahead of you nor lags behind,
it always knows just where you are and stays with you.

It indicates the location of gas stations and other services
to provide fuel and assistance for you on your trip.

Although it shows you every side street along the way
a big bold arrow always points you in the right direction.

The visual map gives advance notice of
when and where and how soon you’ll need to make a turn,
and the voice gives you audible cues to keep you on the correct path:
“400 yards ahead, turn right, then bear left, then stay left…”

And then, in case you weren’t listening or paying attention,
the voice repeats the cue to remind you.

If you make a wrong turn it immediately revises your directions
to get you going the right way.

And it doesn’t scold you when you make a wrong turn;
its only interest is to get you back on track,
to get you to your destination – the place you want to end up.

And no matter how far off you might wander,
no matter how much you ignore the directions,
it always knows how to get you back just where you need to be,
right where you belong....

Wouldn’t it be great to have something like that for our LIFE’s journey?

A full set of directions for every leg of our journey, mapped out by:
someone who always knows exactly where I am –
even if I don’t know where I am myself.
someone who knows all the streets and turns – and never gets lost;
someone who wants me to reach my final destination safely;
someone who is by my side all the time, riding right next to me;
someone who can tell me when I need to slow down
and when I need to get moving;
someone who knows the best route for me to take
avoiding the shortcuts that might get me lost;
someone who always knows if it’s a left or a right I should take;
someone who, when I insist on making a wrong turn,
knows just how to get me going in the right direction –
and who doesn’t say, “I TOLD you not to go that way!
someone who will follow me
through miles and years of wrong turns
and is always there to gladly steer me back to the right path?

But we have all that – don’t we?

We do have “someone” just like that.

(And just like my TomTom,
you knew where I was heading in this homily!)

John the Baptist echoes Isaiah today when he says,
“Make a straight highway for the Lord.”

Clear the roadway! Follow the directions!

Life is too great a journey to undertake
if you don’t know where you’re going - or how to get there.

Our problem is often that we’re foolish enough to think
that we know the way, the road, better than God does.

But the Lord knows the way perfectly and wants to guide us:
wants to help us avoid short-cuts that get us lost;
wants to help us make the right decision at every fork in the road;
wants to tell us to slow down when we’re moving too fast
and to give it some gas when we’re holding up traffic;
and wants to redirect us every time we get lost
on the highway that leads to him, his truth and his love.

Our GPS device as Christians isn’t a techno-toy:
it’s the scriptures that show us the way;
it’s the Church constantly reminding us of our destination;
it’s the guidance of prayer that keeps us turning back to God;
and it’s the company of others who, by many varied routes,
are all heading to the same destination.

This is what Advent and Christmas are all about:
making sure we’re on the right highway,
that we’re making the correct turns,
that we’re following the map the Lord has made for us,
that we’re heading in the right direction.

Once a week, our spiritual GPS leads us down Main Street
to this church and to this table, to the Eucharist,
where the One who maps all our paths
pulls us over to the side of the road here
to reorient us and to feed us for the journey.

Let us rejoice that Christ himself makes that journey with each of us
and will always guide us safely on the path that leads us home.