FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 4th SUNDAY OF ADVENT, December 19, 2021:
In his book, Varieties of Religious Experience, psychologist William James tells the story of a man who stood alone on a deserted hilltop one night. It was one of those beautiful nights when the stars fill the sky, love fills the heart, and peace fills the soul. As the man stood there, waves of joy began to sweep over him. He felt like someone appreciating a magnificent symphony for the first time. All the notes were harmonizing in a way that made his heart burst with emotion.
Suddenly, the man began to feel another overwhelming Presence with him on that hilltop; a Presence that he would later understand to be God. That Presence remarkably grew so intense that it overwhelmed him. Later he said, “My faith in God was born that night on that hilltop.”
Experiences like this one are what we often refer to as “peak moments.” These are moments when, for a brief instant, we get a glimpse of something greater than us; moments that add up to something greater than what our senses alone can detect. We connect with a spiritual realm that is infinitely bigger, more profoundly beautiful, and more intensely meaningful than the realm we live in the ordinary day-to-day.
When we look at what is happening in our Gospel today, I think we can name this as a peak moment for Elizabeth and her unborn baby John. Elizabeth is naming this peak moment when she says to Mary, “The moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy.” It is, of course, not unusual for a baby to stir in a mother’s womb. We know that babies “kick” while they are in the womb. But, something more than that is intended here. Luke, in his telling of this encounter, wants us to understand that the movement of John in Elizabeth’s womb is caused by something other than the normal responses of pregnancy. Luke wants us to understand that this movement is in response to the presence of Jesus in the womb of Mary, His mother. Elizabeth’s baby, even in its unborn state, senses the presence of Jesus and leaps for joy.
The leaping of John in the womb previews something that will happen over and over again in Jesus lifetime. People will be moved in profound ways by just His presence; by the various encounters they have with the Word Made Flesh in their midst. Let me give you a few examples. I have been sharing the TV show, The Chosen, with our middle schoolers at St. Stan’s this semester. The Chosen, for those who don’t know, is a TV series that chronicles the life of Jesus in the Gospels. What the writers of this show do so well though, is connect us on an emotional level to the events of our salvation. Every few weeks, I’ve been watching an episode with the middle schoolers and then talk about it. This week saw the calling of Simon and Andrew. Up to this point, Simon Peter has been struggling in his life. He is lacking direction and focus and struggling to support his family through his fishing. Andrew has told him about Jesus, but so far, he has not experienced a peak moment with Jesus.
Then, after a very unsuccessful night of fishing, as they return to the shore, Jesus stepped into their boat and told them to lower their nets one more time. Simon has virtually no confidence in this effort, but does it just the same. “Master,” he says dejected, “We have worked hard all night and have caught nothing.” They lower their nets again and the catch is so great that it nearly capsizes the boat. Coming to the shore, Simon in both exhaustion and surrender, drops to his knees before Jesus. “Depart from me Lord, for I am a sinful man.” In that moment, Peter experienced the holiness of Jesus in a way that he had never experienced before. That peak moment would change the course of his life.
The good news for us today is that these peak moments of experiencing the Lord are not only in the past; they are not merely historical remembrances. We can still experience today what John experienced in Elizabeth’s womb, what Simon experienced on the seashore, and what the disciples experienced on that mountaintop. Now, we cannot force or create these experiences, they are a gift from God. But, we can open ourselves to them. We can ready our hearts to experience God in these ways. That is what our Advent has been all about. This is a time to prepare the way, opening our hearts for the coming of Jesus into our lives once again.
In my own life, that peak moment came when I first began feeling called into a life of faith. It started by being drawn more and more into the celebration of the Mass. My faith had been weak up until this point in my life, but it was the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist that overwhelmed me. In my early 20s, I struggled with belief in the Eucharist, but in that moment – like that man on the hilltop – I felt the true presence of God there; a presence that only grew and grew and altered the course of my life.
My friends, maybe you have had that peak moment already, maybe not, but God is waiting for you. He is waiting for you here tonight in this Church, in this Eucharist. God wants to reveal Himself to you in a powerful way. God is waiting to be present to you in a way that will make your heart leap for joy. All you have to do is open yourself to welcome your Lord once again. Open our eyes Lord that we may see you. Open our hearts Lord that we may love like you love. Open our lives Lord that You may be born again in us.
“Blessed are you who believed what was spoken to you by the Lord.”
May the Lord give you peace.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.