1st Sunday of Advent
Year C

Making Still Greater Progress

All the saints have been heroic. That is the definition of "Saint". But God has had a harder time in making heroes out of some than others. They have had more "un-heroism".

Saints like Aloysius Gonzaga, for instance, became heroes so fast - such was that goodwill - that their flight for heaven seems to have been a snap. When Aloysius died aged only 23, his three confessors testified of this radiant young man that they honestly believed he had never committed a serious sin.

On the other hand, St. Camillus DeLellis, born in 1500 (just a decade or so before Aloysius) had a far more twisted and rocky road to heaven. A soldier at seventeen, six foot two in his stocking feet, he developed a quarrelsome temper and a yen for gambling that was a real addiction. Once, for instance, he literally gambled away all he owned, losing even the shirt off his back. Add to this, he had a running sore that never cleared up and gave him a short fuse.

Nevertheless, Camillus for all his violence really wanted to behave better. After trying in vain to enter a religious order or even get employment as a servant in a religious house, he was inspired to found an order of his own. It was an order of nursing brothers - very much needed in those days before there was a real nursing profession. Urged by St. Philip Neri, Camillus studied for the priesthood and was ordained (a belated vocation, he had to attend Latin class with giggling teen-age seminarians). Now this man dedicated his strengths and his weaknesses to serving the ailing and wounded. He taught his "Ministers of the Sick" to see in each patient, no matter how crotchety, Christ Himself. Today, St. Camillus DeLellis is the Church's official patron saint of nurses. That is because, as St. Paul puts it today, he had forged ahead despite his flaws, so as "to make still greater progress" (I Thess. 4, 1. Today's second reading).

-Father Robert F. McNamara

Q400: Why are the words of Jesus so "chilling" in today's gospel (Lk 21:25-28,34-36) when this Advent season is supposed to be joyful?

A great word, "advent." It is a word filled with Hope, because it points forward to something desirable. With the winter chill, I always look forward to the coming of spring. If you are a football buff, you look forward to seeing your favorite team in action in a championship bowl game. If you are an engaged person, you look forward to sharing the rest of your life with a member of the opposite sex. If you are a child (and aren't we all), you look forward to the joys of Christmas. Whatever our individual situation, we need to wait; and we usually need a good dose of patience, as we eagerly expect our hopes to become fulfilled.

But if you are a Catholic, you also look forward to something else. As I said in a homily once years ago, the season of Advent looks forward to the Future, and because of that it also reminds us of our Past. Advent is a time of Hope - a hope of being delivered from a Past that may have separated us from Jesus Christ.

This is where the words of Jesus today help us. He reminds us all that everyone on earth will need to stand secure before God on judgment day; and the time to prepare is right now. The challenge and hope is to trust in Jesus, and to bring our lives back into line with his holy word and with the teachings of His designated authority, the Magisterium of the Catholic Church. When we do that, we can look forward to "that day" with great hope, and great trust in Jesus. His words are not "chilling" for those striving to lead a real Christian life; they are hope-filled!

KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! Jesus calls us all to watchfulness, as we hope in his second coming in glory (CCC #2612). Not only does an active hope give us joy, it also keeps our prayer life alive and ready to resist temptation (CCC #2725). The virtue and gift of hope keeps our focus on our eternal goal, and humble before the Giver of this gift (CCC #1817).

Promises, Promises

Advent is here again and the liturgy focuses on God's promises. He promised Israel a king from David's line who would establish a kingdom of justice and peace. He promised to be with us always. Advent reminds us of these promises and celebrates the beginning of their fulfillment in the birth of a child king in a stable. We come to Mass to find comfort and strength in his Eucharistic self giving. We affirm our faith in his Second Coming to complete what he has begun at Christmas and continues today through the life of the church.

Lord, make our hearts humble and hopeful as we struggle to live up to your command to love others with a self-giving love like you have shown for us. Strengthen our hearts to live in a way pleasing to God. We try to do this but help us to make greater progress.