Begin Again

Second Sunday of Advent

Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11

Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her service is at an end, her guilt is expiated; indeed, she has received from the hand of the LORD double for all her sins. A voice cries out: In the desert prepare the way of the LORD! Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God! Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill shall be made low; the rugged land shall be made a plain, the rough country, a broad valley. Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together; for the mouth of the LORD has spoken. Go up on to a high mountain, Zion, herald of glad tidings; cry out at the top of your voice, Jerusalem, herald of good news! Fear not to cry out and say to the cities of Judah: Here is your God! Here comes with power the Lord GOD, who rules by his strong arm; here is his reward with him, his recompense before him. Like a shepherd he feeds his flock; in his arms he gathers the lambs, carrying them in his bosom, and leading the ewes with care.

2 Peter 3:8-14

Do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like one day. The Lord does not delay his promise, as some regard "delay," but he is patient with you, not wishing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a mighty roar and the elements will be dissolved by fire, and the earth and everything done on it will be found out. Since everything is to be dissolved in this way, what sort of persons ought you to be, conducting yourselves in holiness and devotion, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved in flames and the elements melted by fire. But according to his promise we await new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, since you await these things, be eager to be found without spot or blemish before him, at peace.

Mark 1:1-8

The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God. As it is written in Isaiah the prophet: Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you; he will prepare your way. A voice of one crying out in the desert: "Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths." John the Baptist appeared in the desert proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. People of the whole Judean countryside and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River as they acknowledged their sins. John was clothed in camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist. He fed on locusts and wild honey. And this is what he proclaimed: "One mightier than I is coming after me. I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit."

Because of the First Reading and because we’re now in Advent, the beginning of a new liturgical year, I’ve discerned a theme that we’re going to be talking about during Advent and Christmas, and that theme is: Begin Again.

This been a challenging year, and we all can spiritually lose our footing at some point: We’re distracted, perhaps depleted, discouraged, or isolated.

But God always begins again in our lives. That’s the point of His renewing every covenant with mankind: We break our marriage relationship with Him and what does He do? Begins again (Cf. CCC 55).

God says in the First Reading, “Comfort, O comfort my people… Speak tenderly to Jerusalem” (Is 40:1-2). It’s His nature to comfort those who are afflicted. It’s also His nature to challenge us, because in order to be truly happy and reach perfection, we need to be pushed outside our comfort zone. But the First Reading says that the time of suffering for the people of Jerusalem is over.

The theme of Begin Again is taken from the teachings of Venerable Bruno Lanteri (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bruno_Lanteri#/media/File:Pio_Bruno_Lanteri_OMV.jpg), an Italian priest who lived from 1759-1830, lived in very difficult times: The French Revolution persecuted the Church, with priests and nuns being killed, while inside the Church, there was a heresy called Jansenism, which “obscured the truth of God’s love” (https://www.omvusa.org/bruno-lanteri/about-bruno-lanteri/history/).

In Ven. Bruno’s life and in the lives of all the people he served, they were tempted by discouragement, suffering, and physical pain, but his main message was: “Never give in to discouragement; lift your heart immediately to the God who loves you, and begin again” (Fr. Timothy Gallagher, Overcoming Spiritual Discouragement, 6-7).

A: Here are three areas where we can begin again:

1) In understanding Who God truly is. The psalm we prayed today says, “Show us your steadfast love, O Lord” (Ps 84). During two previous Christmas Masses, I taught you that the words ‘steadfast love’ is one word in Hebrew: Hesed. I need you to remember this word for life. Do you know God’s love as steadfast?
Ven. Bruno writes: “It is very important to understand deeply how good God is, and not to measure him by our own limitations or think that he tires of our wavering, weakness, and negligence; that because of our sins he withdraws his help and denies his grace…. Let us think of him as he truly is, filled with goodness, mercy, and compassion, and let us know him as the loving Father he is, who raises us when we have fallen, who never tires of forgiving us, and to whom we give great joy and honor when we seek forgiveness” (https://www.omvusa.org/bruno-lanteri/life-legacy/begin-again/from-begin-again/).

Imagine there’s a person who’s always late, promises to help but never does, and never lives up to his or her potential. We get tired of this person! And we tend to think God the Father will respond like we do, but He doesn’t.

We’ve probably tried this year to grow spiritually and morally, but have failed in some ways. God the Father doesn’t give up on us, and doesn’t want us to give up in our spiritual growth.

Let me tell you a delicate story about God’s fatherhood, and I share this with permission. A woman once came to me and shared that, years ago, she fell in love with a priest. Nothing sinful ever happened, thank God, but she went to two other priests for advice on what to do. Unfortunately, these two priests didn’t give her an experience of God’s fatherhood; they didn’t do anything wrong, but their comments didn’t redirect her focus to God the Father’s steadfast love for her as His child.

Like this woman, all of us have vulnerable areas in our lives and past that we don’t like to talk about, because they’re embarrassing and we feel shame. And probably most of us have never experienced God the Father’s true love for us when we reveal such experiences.

When this woman told me about her experience, I tried to pass on to her a kind of fatherhood that had been revealed to me over the years. Whenever I told P. Alban and Msgr. O’Brien, my two spiritual directors over the years, embarrassing parts of my life, they always reacted calmly, lovingly, and rationally; they were neither morally lax in their counsel nor scrupulous and excessive. And so, when this woman revealed to me her temptation, I didn’t overreact or express shock, but I reminded her that she didn’t do anything sinful and that experiencing a bad temptation doesn’t mean she’s bad.

So, my question to you is: Do you know that God the Father would react similarly if you revealed to Him the embarrassing parts of your life? You might feel like you’re a bad person for having some temptation or committing a grave sin, but God the Father looks on you with love; He’s calm and rational.

2) We begin again in understanding God’s purpose for our lives. St. Peter writes in the Second Reading, “With the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. The Lord is not slow about his promise… but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance” (2 Pt 3:8-9). God the Father wants us to come to repentance, meaning a change of heart, away from sin and towards Him. God gives us time on earth to move towards Him, and this time includes suffering.

This year has been full of suffering. So, we need to begin again by remembering God’s purpose for our lives and the reasons why suffering is allowed.

Do you believe there are different levels of happiness (http://thejustmeasure.ca/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/Four-Levels-of-Happiness.png)? Philosophers say there are four levels, and 70% of people default to seeking levels 1 and 2: pleasure and ego satisfaction. If we live at these levels, the COVID-19 situation will greatly ruin our happiness. But what does suffering do? It forces us to look at higher levels of happiness, that of contribution and the ultimate good. It would be nice if we didn’t need suffering to get us there, but we all do, because, without suffering, we all tend to stay at levels 1 and 2.

God the Father loves us and wants our greatest happiness, so He will allow suffering to force us to higher levels of happiness. Remember, if we protect our children from all suffering, they become spiritually and morally weak. Good parents allow their children to undergo adversity, and that’s what God is doing for our good.

We need to think in terms of eternity. We don’t have to suffer forever. But, for this short time of suffering, we have the opportunity of self-definition, and can determine who we will be. During this crisis, are we going to be disciples of Christ and people of virtue?

Understanding God’s purpose for our lives doesn’t always make suffering easy. But in a moment of hopelessness this year, this truth did keep me focused and got me through the hopelessness. We can all begin again by understanding God’s purpose for our lives.

3) We begin again in receiving God’s mercy and forgiveness. The Gospel talks about St. John the Baptist’s “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mk 1:4). To begin again, we need God’s forgiveness.

Ven. Bruno wrote, “I will not allow myself to be discouraged, however I may fall… Though I fall a thousand times, each time… I will rise again as peaceful as if it were the first, knowing my weakness and knowing, Lord, your great mercy… If I should fall even a thousand times a day, a thousand times, with peaceful repentance, I will say immediately, [now I begin], my God, my God!” (https://www.omvusa.org/bruno-lanteri/life-legacy/begin-again/from-begin-again/).

How many times a day do we fall and sin? With the first person we talk to when we wake up, in the car, at work and school, by wasting time, etc. But the Good news is God’s great mercy! If we fall a thousand times today, a thousand times we’ll get up peacefully and turn to God for forgiveness.

Many people have shared with me how renewing it’s been to go to Confession during this crisis. It’s a spiritual fresh start and gives us stability. Yesterday, I was amazed that the line-up for Confession led to six straight hours of offering the Sacrament

In the next few weeks, we’re going to look again at the essentials of God’s vision for our parish. We’re going to begin again in terms of our love for the Eucharist, our desire to be saints, loving like Jesus, and then sharing Him with everyone we meet. We’re going to look forward to a blessed Christmas, and then Alpha on January 7.

I’ve come out of a difficult time in my life. I never thought that I would be so run down that I would need ten weeks to recover, to work on my problems, and to come to understand God’s mercy in a profoundly deeper way, and to understand His purpose for my life. A number of you have said I’m beaming, which is something you never said about me before(!), but what I’ve received is a grace that God the Father wants for all of us. And a big part of my renewal is beginning again. I begin again every day, sometimes every hour, because God begins again.

Source: The JustMeasure: Begin Again

Posted: December 6, 2020

Fr. Justin Huang

 
Fr. Justin grew up in Richmond, BC, the third of three brothers. Though not raised Catholic, he started going to Mass when he was 13. After a powerful experience of God’s love through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, he felt called to the Holy Priesthood at the age of 16.


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