Hold back nothing of yourself
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE SECOND SUNDAY OF ADVENT, December 5, 2021:
A number of years ago, I watched a documentary called Untattoo You. It told the remarkable story of a program on the West Coast that offered to remove unwanted tattoos from the bodies of young people – their focus was helping young people escape from gang life and remove the tattoos that were associated with that way of life; tattoos that had physically marked them as part of these destructive groups. The film is told from the perspective of these young people; about how their lives got into these difficult places and about how difficult it had been leave gang life, not to mention the challenge of removing the actual tattoos.
Although dramatic, the story behind this film gets at an important point in all of our lives – the reality that all of us have probably done something in our lives that we regret and would like to erase. Usually these things aren’t as visible as a tattoo or as dramatic as joining a gang, but we all make mistakes or poor decisions; we all say things we wish we could take back or have broken friendships or relationships that we wish we could repair. It is part of being human and sometimes we just wish we could make these mistakes disappear; that they could be erased. We’re looking for the way to undo the things that we wish we could change.
If we take a moment to slow down this Advent Season, to listen to the words of Scripture and the songs being sung, to take a few moments out of the hustle and bustle of the season, we might discover that this is in fact also the message of Advent. That it is the message of Jesus. It is what is offered to us every time we enter the Confessional; every time we gather around the altar for the Eucharist. Jesus is reminding us to welcome Him again. He is saying, “I am always right here to change your darkness into light; to change your sin into holiness; to change your sadness into joy; to transform your grief into glory. I’m here to make all things new for you.”
We hear the dramatic description of John the Baptist today: a voice crying out in the wilderness, “Prepare the way of the Lord.” Those words are being spoken to us, telling us to prepare once again; to ready our hearts once again that Jesus might find a home there; to clear the pathways so that He can enter in.
Pope Francis echoes a similar message to the church and the world crying out inviting us to prepare. He reminds us of powerful realities like the fact that “God never tires of forgiving us.” So, we should never tire of seeking out that forgiveness. And in The Joy of the Gospel he said, “Now is the time to say to Jesus: ‘Lord, I have let myself be deceived; in a thousand ways I have shunned your love, yet here I am once more, to renew my covenant with you. I need you. Save me once again, Lord, take me once more into your redeeming embrace’.”
So, as we hear the words today, “Prepare the way of the Lord”, what are we to do? Well, these words are not merely historic, they are present and alive today, meant for each one of us just as much as they were meant for the men and women who first heard them more than 2,000 years ago. These words, here today, are an invitation to you and me to become new again in Jesus. To leave behind whatever marks, there are on our souls that we regret – let God have them, let God heal them, let God change and transform them. As St. Francis of Assisi said, “Hold back nothing of yourself for yourself, so that He who has given Himself completely to you, might receive you completely.” So, don’t let this Mass be like every other Mass, any other Mass. Today, look into your heart and leave it all here. Today, let God have all those things you want to change. Let Him have the words you wish you never said, the things you wish you never did. Lay your burdens down on this altar, so that you may be lifted up in newness. Today, prepare the way, make some room, let Jesus in the Eucharist fill you completely.
Pope Francis said, “I have this certainty: God is in every person's life. Even if the life of a person has been a disaster, even if it is destroyed by vices, drugs or anything else - God is in this person's life. You can - you must - try to seek God in every human life.” My friends, God is in our lives and He wants to be in them more and more. That is the message of Advent. To prepare ourselves because God is coming. Prepare ourselves because God wants to make His home with us, in us.
So, as we enter into this Eucharist today, let us open ourselves completely to Him. Hold back nothing of yourselves. Put all that you are – even and especially the parts that feel too heavy to carry or the parts you want to change – place it all on the altar along with the bread and wine and just as Jesus changes them into something miraculous, something new, let Him change you too into something miraculous – let Him make you everything He knows you can be; the very person He created you to be. Prepare the way today, once more.
May the Lord give you peace.
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