Monday, November 29, 2010


A Sad Start to Advent

I've had a sad and strange start to Advent this year. I mentioned in my post for the Feast of Christ the King that I’d been visiting my cousin’s wife, Remy, in the hospice unit of a local hospital as she suffered through the last stage of cancer. Well, two days later on that Monday she passed away at the age of 59. The family decided to postpone the viewing and mass until after Thanksgiving. And so this morning I had the sad honor of celebrating her funeral mass and preaching the homily. Since I already had the notes typed out, I decided to present them as an Advent post. So here is the homily as I delivered it. I hope you may find something in it for your own Advent reflection.

The Homily

I visited Remy a couple of times in Beth Israel Hospital’s Hospice Unit the week before she died. On Saturday, the last time I visited, she was heavily sedated. But as I said hello and took her hand she was suddenly very awake and aware. We looked at one another trading unspoken thoughts until I asked her: “Are you scared?” “No!” she answered right away.

For the past week and more, the Church has been meditating on the end time, when Christ will return on the clouds in glory. Yesterday the Church began Advent, a season of joyful expectant waiting for the Lord to come. The Sunday gospel warned us to be watchful and vigilant, “for you know not the day nor the hour when the Lord is coming.”

As I said, two days before her death I asked Remy: “Are you scared?” When she answered “No!” I believed her. It may be true that we know not the day or the hour when the son of Man is coming to us, but she seemed to have a pretty good idea that for her the hour would be very soon. And she was ready.

Besides the warning to be watchful and prepared for the coming of Christ, there is a second theme of Advent that will appear next Sunday and continue through the rest of Advent: the announcement from John Baptist and from Jesus that “the Kingdom is at hand.”
When Palestinian Jews at the time heard the phrase “Kingdom of God?” they thought of a geographical political reality, presided over by a victorious military Messiah-King.
But Jesus understood the notion of “Kingdom” quite differently as we heard in the gospel passage a moment ago.

Two disciples were making their way home from Jerusalem on the first Easter afternoon despondent and disillusioned, not sure what to make of everything that had taken place during the past few days. Suddenly Jesus began walking with them on the road and joined their discussion. But they didn’t recognize him! They started talking to him about their shattered dreams: We had thought that He was the one to redeem Israel They thought that this Jesus was going to be the victorious Messiah to deliver Israel. But now he was dead. Jesus then started to explain to them the Scriptures, and the many places in the Jewish bible where it says that the Son of Man would suffer and die to deliver the people. No wonder they had not recognized him! You see, they weren’t looking for a suffering messiah. It had never occurred to them that through defeat could come victory, that through death could come eternal life.

We’re here this morning to honor Remy Cambria, to support her husband Steve and her children Stephanie and Carmen; but we’re also here to affirm our faith in the mysterious Kingdom that Jesus revealed to those two disciples, where things are the opposite of the way they are in the world. In Jesus’ Kingdom you grapple head-on with the horrible mystery of human suffering: of cancer and death itself. Suffering is not an embarrassment to God, rather it's right at the center of the mystery of the Kingdom.

Many of us Remember Remy’s terrible suffering and illness when she was pregnant with her twins, Carmen and Stephanie. Many of us mourned with her over the tragic and sudden death of her father. She was no stranger to suffering. And she knew that in the Kingdom you don’t get any answers; what you get is the same message that those two disciples got on the road to Emmaus that first Easter afternoon: That through defeat will ultimately come victory, that through illness and suffering will ultimately come healing or a couple of beautiful babies, and that through death will ultimately come eternal life.

There’s another aspect of this idea of the Kingdom of God that I would like to reflect on with you this morning: In the Old Testament God was always acting in history to deliver and save. For the Israelites, heaven could and indeed often did touch earth: in the Law, for example, in which God came in intimate contact with the hearts of humans. But the most special place where heaven touched the earth was in the temple in Jerusalem, where God dwelt among his people.

Jesus picked up on this idea and began to teach that heaven and earth had joined in his own person. That’s why he was such a threat to the priests: He saw himself as the new temple that would replace the old temple as the place where God dwelt among human beings. Further, he told his followers that we, too, the new people of God, are also the new temple, the place where heaven meets earth.

But this “Kingdom” in which heaven touches earth was not a kingdom of power or domination of others, not a kingdom ruled by self-centeredness and “me-first,” not a kingdom of mad striving to get rich and amass tons of material things. No, the Kingdom was and is about something much more marvelous. Jesus, God-made-man, in whom heaven touched earth, gave us a living example of the Kingdom in his own humanity: A kingdom of gentleness and peace, a kingdom of giving more than receiving, and a kingdom built on self-sacrificing love.

He told us that we are not only to enjoy this kingdom, but are to work at bringing the Kingdom to birth “on earth as it is in heaven.” This is our God-given Christian vocation. Each of us is to be a place where heaven touches earth, where love takes flesh and stands up to selfishness “on earth as it is in heaven.” Where gentleness takes flesh and stands up against force and fear “on earth as it is in heaven.”

This is the Kingdom that Jesus is announcing in Advent. This is the Kingdom that is breaking in on us daily. This is the Kingdom that Remy Cambria lived out every day. Take a look at her life. Although I had officiated at her wedding to Steve, and baptized her children and even her grandchild, many of you in church this morning knew her better than I. But some things that I know about her show that she knew how to live the Kingdom.

What about the Kingdom of gentleness and love? Remy seldom raised her voice, and was always concerned about her family and her friends, gently loving people “on earth as it is in heaven.”

And the Kingdom of peace? You never heard Remy utter a criticism or a harsh word about anyone; she was quiet and charitable “on earth as it is in heaven.”

What about the Kingdom of giving rather than receiving? I wonder how many people in this church this morning were on her Christmas gift list -- I know I was! Even if I hadn’t seen her in months and months, I always got a Christmas gift. She was a person who found delight in giving to others, not unlike God, the greatest gift-giver, who gave us his only Son to be our Redeemer. Remy showed us how to give-- “on earth as it is in heaven.”

So as we start this Advent season full of sadness and grief, let us also be consoled by Remy’s loving example of how to live the Kingdom right now, a kingdom of quiet gentleness, of charity, of selfless loving and giving -- on earth as it is in heaven.

Thank you, Remy!

..........."A New Heaven and a New Earth"

1 comment:

  1. Awesome post here.It's very nice and interesting.Will you post in future regarding Church Mass Times?Keep sharing!