Only the very perceptive might have noticed that we’ve begun reading from Luke’s gospel. We’ve left Mark behind, and as we enter upon a new Church year ( Church Calendar begins with Advent) we are reading this wonderful gospel text which favors the anawim, or the “littlest” among us. Some of the best narratives of Jesus and his parables are found in this gospel. Likewise, the favorite gospel passages of many people, like the parable of the Prodigal, the parable of the Good Samaritan, and parables of things getting lost… coins, sheep, people … but that’s all ahead of us.
The scriptures for the Second Sunday of Advent are quickly setting a scene for us. We are being prepared for the celebration of the great Mystery of Incarnation, and part of our preparation is all about reflecting on how it is, in fact, we prepare ourselves to welcome Jesus into our own lives anew.
Paul’s letter to the Philippians speaks of the love he holds for them because of their partnership with him in service of the gospel. Paul reminds them that he prays for them always, “with joy,” and he affirms a profound truth for them, as though they might not be able to glimpse it yet for themselves: “I am confident of this, (he writes) that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus.” This idea of a work begun in our lives that is continuing to unfold and find its fulfilment is one of the more beautiful ideas in the writings of Paul, to my mind. It is the prayer of every good pastor.
I know that in times past, pastors were often seen as holding unswerving dominion over their parishes. When I listen to stories about the old-time pastors in the Archdiocese, I often think I am listening to stories about a time when gods walked among men. The stories tell of driven, committed and determined men who gave their lives in service of a community, often building a parish from the ground up. To hear these stories is to hear often about the sheer force of will on the part of these characters which saw our local parishes opened, built, and become vibrant communities of faith. Today, however, this model no longer holds. It's not for any lack of commitment or determination, but because as time has passed so too have our models of leadership. Today, parishioners are much more actively involved in their parish communities. Not only are there a host of volunteer ministers making our mission and outreach possible, but volunteers also serve in parish governance and advisory bodies.
The partnership of which St. Paul spoke in service of the gospel is very real in our time, and that is a wonderful gift for the community of believers. This partnership is a concrete and practical expression of our opening our lives to leaning into the Reign of God proclaimed by Jesus Christ, and to our participation in building it up. It is, perhaps, our modern approach to making straight the crooked paths, to filling in valleys and to leveling hills and mountains. The purpose of all our efforts in ministry, and in building up the life of the community of believers, is to serve the mission of Jesus Christ. In a real sense, it is our partnership of commitment to the gospel that makes possible an encounter between a seeker and the mercy, compassion and hands-on goodness of Jesus. In this, as your pastor, I see the finger of God moving deliberately and confidently. We don’t all do the same thing. We don’t all give of ourselves in the same way. We can’t all contribute in the way another person does. However, we each do our own bit. We each serve in the manner in which it is given to us by God to serve. In this way, so much is accomplished and so much is made possible in the practical ways of our being a community of believers here at Lourdes. And so, as pastor of this little community of believers, I join in prayer, paraphrasing the Apostle:
“May your love continue to grow and grow in knowledge and every kind of perception, so that you may truly discern what is of real value, in order that you may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, to the glory and praise of God, our Father. Amen.”