Sunday, December 24, 2017

Homily – 4th Sunday of Advent – The Foolish Man

                                                                                2nd Samuel 7:1-5, 8b-12, 14-16
Romans 16:25-27
Luke 1:26-38

A Parable for Our Times
By Deacon Dennis Kelly
In a wealthy kingdom there lived a wealthy man called Asinus. He felt anointed by God and by all appearances led a holy life.
He prayed regularly in the house of worship and was pleasant to those he encountered there. But he always expected others to serve his needs and never stepped forward to serve the needs of others.
He wanted silence when in the House of the Lord and would become irritated when others would make noise. They were spoiling his time with God and he resented their interruptions.
Asinus would pass by people at the door of the church needing assistance and become angry in his heart. He thought, “What are those people, but a blight on our kingdom and its privileged people.”
 He roamed the streets of the kingdom seeing others with less than he, and his pride would swell in his fortunes and blessings. He deserved this. He was anointed by God to live well and scorned those who had less, for they, he thought, were cursed by God. “How else could you explain their misfortune?”
Then, one day, the wealthy man fell unconscious with a blinding fever.  He was very sick and near death.
In his fevered dreams appeared an angel who said,
“Asinus, turn back from your evil ways.
You say your fortune comes from God and that you are blessed, but your wealth has cursed you with blindness to the needs of the world. God expects you to bless others with your fortunes, but you do not.
Your worship is nothing, but vanity, done only to feel good about yourself. You refuse to hear God’s voice.
The Lord is sending you on a journey, Asinus. Learn well from the people you meet along the way.  They have much to teach you.”
Asinus found himself standing alone on a deserted cobble stone street in a blinding fog. It was very cold, a cold Asinus had never experienced before.
The first person he met was a frail old man abandoned by his family and turned away by those who care for the infirmed in the kingdom. He was riddled with sickness and was dying in the streets. The man said his name was Egenum.
Asinus’ cold heart immediately judged the man’s condition. But Egenum just smiled and bid him, “Hello.” He asked Asinus if he could help find him a blanket so he would not die cold.
Asinus thought, “I am in this foreign place and do not know where to find you a blanket!”  He said, “Sir, you will need to find a blanket yourself.”  But the man was so frail he could not move.
Asinus coldly wished the man blessing and continued on his journey unable to even look the man in the eye as he departed.
Asinus next met a pregnant woman crying at the doorsteps of the church. She, too, was cold and in need of a place to stay. But the church doors were locked.
She meekly introduced herself at Cupio and asked for his help getting into the church. Asinus thought to himself, “I have no time for this.”
Asinus tried the door, but could not get it open. He knocked once, but no one answered.
He shrugged his shoulders and said, “There’s nothing I can do to help you. I am sorry for your misfortune. Do you not have a man to care for you?“
The women turned away and cried even harder. Cupio told him she was fleeing a husband who beat her. She was hoping for a better life for herself and the child she carried in her womb.
He didn’t ask her any more questions, but shook his head, and walked away, and continued on his journey.
Next he met a mute child who had a sign around her neck that read Fame. She was gaunt with one lame leg.
The child grabbed Asinus by the hand and slowly took him to the edge of town. Each step was difficult for the little girl. Asinus grew impatient as they walked together.
At the two iron gates that appeared before him he noticed a sign overhead that read, “Pauper’s Graveyard.”
There the child showed him two freshly dug graves, one large and one small.
            She pointed to him, then to the large grave. 
His heart sank as he realized he was staring at his final resting place. “But how could this be?  I am a wealthy man. I am still young. Surely I will recover from this fever and wake up from this awful dream.”
            As he looked down he noticed his reflection in a puddle next to the grave. He could see in the reflection he was no longer young, but a very old man. His face looked scornful and angry, and filled with contempt. Where was the pious man he believed himself to be?
           The child then pointed to herself and to the smaller grave. At that moment he realized the cold, stark truth.
He looked closely at the child. She smiled innocently, but her gaunt face told him she was dying of hunger.
He began to weep and prayed with all his might for the angel to return to him. But the angel did not.
Instead, a woman dressed in a white and blue flowing gown stood before him. She radiated light and her face was a thing of beauty and peace.
She began to speak. 
“Asinus. Asinus. God is speaking to your heart. But you refuse to listen.
He has sent you three messengers to teach you how to see the world differently. But your blindness prevents you from seeing beyond your own needs to needs of others especially those I hold most dear.
Your hardened heart and arrogance come from your wealth. They prevent you for hearing the cries of the poor.
I am the mother of your Lord and Savior. You know well my example of listening and responding to God’s voice. My Son is calling upon you to do the same.
First, he wants you to know the names of those you have met today.
The old man is named Egenum or 'needy.' He asked your help in finding a blanket. But you ignored his needs.
The pregnant woman is named Cupio or 'want.'  She desired entrance into your Church to find sanctuary from an abusive husband. But you judged her and refused to act on her pleas.
The child holding your hand at this moment is Fame or 'hunger.' She has shown you your future if you do not change your ways.
And, you, Asinus, do you know what your own name means? It means 'fool.' 
Are you unaware your own friends refuse to tell you of their good works for the poor and outcast for fear of your ridicule?
The man began to weep bitterly.  
The lady said, “This does not have to be your future.” 
            At that, the man awoke from his fever. He was young again. He felt healthy. In fact, he felt like a man renewed.
            As Asinus looked out the window of his warm home he saw all three people he met on his journey on the street below. He knew what he had to do.
            To the old man, he brought a blanket and took him to house of the infirmed and paid for his stay. He was there when the man died peacefully in a warm bed a few days later.
            Next he found the pregnant woman at the Church door, and he himself pounded on the locked door until the priest came to open it. He told the priest of the woman’s plight. She was given sanctuary. He visited her often and became like a brother to her as she built a new life for herself and her new child with his financial help.
            Next, he found the gaunt little girl and took her to the nearby home for abandoned children. He promised to fund her stay and be a part of her life.  He was like a father to her for the rest of his life. 
Years later she buried him in a beautiful cemetery, with an elegant tombstone. She would inherit his wealth and never again be hungry. She was both compassionate and generous, spending her entire inherited fortune helping those in need.

“Whoever has ears to hear ought to hear.”

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Homily – 2nd Sunday of Advent – Prepare!

Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11
2 Peter 3:8-14
Mark 1:1-8

Are you prepared for Christmas?  I know that’s a loaded question this time of year.
The word “prepare” is the one word that pops to mind when reflecting on this weekend’s readings. Our Church calls us to spiritually prepare for the birth of the Christ child -- as we wait expectant yet hopeful.
Our spiritual preparation requires a healthy dose of humility if it is to be successful this Advent season.
I read something beautiful in Morning Prayer this past week. It gets to the heart of this weekend’s readings. In the intercessory prayers of Lauds (or Morning Prayer) I read the following:
“Prepare a path in our hearts for the coming of (Christ)… 
Bring low the mountains of our pride, and fill up the valleys of our weakness.”
In other words, we all probably have some work to do to prepare for Christmas. And this preparation has nothing to do with the Christmas shopping, or other Holiday to-do list.  
Perhaps the best way to understand how God wants us to prepare for what’s to come is to be like first-time parents awaiting the birth of their own first born child.
No doubt Mary and Joseph, and John the Baptist’s parents Elizabeth and Zechariah all experienced this preparation and waiting, expectant yet hopeful.
I’m reminded of the Christmas 1990.  My wife Mary and I were expecting our first child, with a due date one week before Christmas.
We’d moved to Little Rock, Arkansas, earlier in the year for a job managing a radio station. Mary was less than enthusiastic about our time spent living in the South. She was a real trooper for leaving family and friends behind to go to a place unknown to have our first child.
In the months leading up to December, we did all the things first time parents do to prepare for the blessed event.

We prepared a bedroom for the baby. We prepared the car to be able to transport the baby. We prepared for child birth with Lamaze classes. We prepared to be Christian parents by taking baptism classes at our local parish. We prepared to have family come to visit once the baby was born.
We were all consumed with preparation as we waited expectant yet hopeful of the big change coming to our lives.
And shouldn’t we all be spiritually preparing for the big change coming to our lives this Christmas?
If we listen to the cry of John the Baptist, we’re all called to “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his path.”   

We’re about to celebrate the greatest event of all human history, the birth of Jesus. Our hearts need to ready to meet the Christ child.
            On our due date, my wife thought she was going into labor and called me home from work. She was so happy and had big smile on her face as we drove to see her doctor. She was convinced the time was now!
            Dr. Eddie walked into the exam room, took one look at my wife’s beaming smile, and said, “Mary, you’re smiling. You’re not in labor yet. If you were, you wouldn’t be smiling.”
            So, we returned home to wait expectant yet hopeful, and we prepared some more.
            I had to work on Christmas morning.

            As the shift was coming to an end, the phone rang.
            It was Mary calling (with distress in her voice) to say “I’ve been in pain all morning. Please come home quickly.”
            So, I jumped in the car and headed home.
            When I got there, the smile was gone.
            Yep, we were now officially in labor.  But contractions were still 10-to-12-minutes apart and we were told to wait until contractions were five-minutes apart before going to the hospital.  
            So, we spent Christmas Day 1990, all by ourselves, far away from family and friends, experiencing child birth for the very first time. We were waiting expectant yet hopeful, albeit a little stressed that Christmas day.
            The truth is nothing can truly prepare us for such a blessed event. We did all we could to prepare. But the rest was left to the grace of God. 
In fact, I remember thinking all through the month of December, “I’m not ready to be a father!” But the baby was finally ready to come into this world.
Mary gave birth to our first born son Sean Michael Kelly 30 hours after going into labor. The bouncing baby boy arrived one day after Christmas 1990, on the Feast of St. Stephen, first Christian martyr and a deacon.
            For a 29-year-old struggling with his faith, the experience helped seal the deal between God and me. After witnessing a miracle, faith was real in ways it had never had been before. I had never felt love like that before.

We’d experienced a true God moment together. Our lives would be forever changed.
            And this is what God is calling us to do as we prepare the way of the Lord this Christmas. Make paths straight, fill in every valley and make low every mountain and hill.
            Everything in our world had changed with one miracle: the birth of a child.  
And so, our story is God’s story for us all.
We are called by John the Baptist to prepare a way for the Lord in our hearts and change everything as we orient our lives to Christ.
As we baptized our son one week later, with family finally in town, our pastor Monsignor Gaston Herbert reminded me of something stupid he heard me say on the radio shortly after the baby was born.
            When asked by a fellow radio host on the air, “What was the experience like, DK?”  Yours truly said the following fateful words, (and I quote) “It was fun and easy.”
Monsignor Herbert howled as he repeated my careless words, and then baptized our first child.
The people living in the time of Mark’s Gospel were awaiting the second coming of our savior Jesus Christ. They were waiting expectant yet hopeful. Today we’re reading the very beginning of Mark’s Gospel.

            Bible scholars agree. Mark’s was the first written Gospel, probably around 65 AD. This was nearly a generation after the death of Christ. It’s believed Mark’s community lived in Rome.
This early Christian community faced persecutions, betrayals, denials and many conflicts. Mark’s Gospel helped keep this community focused on the expected and hopeful Second Coming of Jesus. Many at this time believed the generation that witnessed Jesus in the flesh would not completely pass away without Jesus coming again.
The action in Mark’s Gospel is fast-paced and designed to get all its readers caught up in the drama, and begin to see ourselves as a continuation of the story of Jesus Christ.
The belief was Jesus is returning soon.  So, prepare.  And so, we, too, are called to prepare while we wait expectant yet hopeful. 
I’m reminded of a beautiful lyric in an Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith Christmas song called “Almost There:”

“You’re almost where the journey ends
Where death will die and life begins
The answered prayer, Emmanuel
You’re almost there.”


           My sisters and brothers, the Lord is coming soon! 

Let us prepare our hearts to welcome a child who will change our world forever.