Sunday, December 15, 2013


   Third Sunday of Advent   A 
When Cardinal Timothy Dolan
was introduced as the next Archbishop of New York
almost five years ago,
he was peppered with hard-hitting questions.
The Catholic Church—in the city, the state, the country—
was facing many challenges:
sexual scandals, fewer people in the pews,
a decreasing number of priests.
What would be his strategy
for dealing with such ponderous problems?

He answered very simply: 
“Happiness attracts.”
Dolan said this specifically
about recruiting more priestly vocations,
but it could just as easily have been his answer
to almost any one of the many other concerns faced by the Church.
“What weighs on me the most,” 
he once said in an interview,
“is the caricature of the Catholic Church
as crabby, nay-saying, down in the dumps,
discouraging, on the run.
And I’m thinking if there is anything
that should be upbeat, affirming, positive, joyful,
it should be people of faith.”
Happiness attracts.

“What did you go out to the desert to see?”
Thus Jesus questions the disciples of John the Baptist.
What were they expecting?
A pushover—easily swayed like a reed in the breeze?
A powerbroker—robed in royal majesty?
Or a prophet—one willing to say the tough stuff:
less concerned with tickling people’s ears
than with prodding their consciences?
What did they expect?
What did they go out to the desert to see?

What should people expect to see when they see…us?

Even before Time magazine
named him Person of the Year the other day,
Pope Francis had been in the news quite a bit
for the release of his Apostolic Exhortation,
Political types have had much to say 
about his diagnosis of what’s wrong
with the modern global economy.
A few Church-watchers have gleefully noted
what the Pope had to say about homilies:
that they shouldn’t be too long.
(Please—hold your applause!)
But what hasn’t gotten 
nearly enough attention—in my opinion—
is the opening section of that document,
the premise upon which stands all the rest:
that Christians ought to be joyful people
because they have encountered Christ.

There are Christians—Pope Francis writes
whose lives seem like Lent without Easter.
I realize of course that joy
is not expressed the same way at all times in life,
especially at moments of great difficulty.
Joy adapts and changes, but it always endures,
even as a flicker of light born of our personal certainty
that, when everything is said and done,
we are infinitely loved.
I understand the grief of people
who have to endure great suffering,
yet slowly but surely we all have to let the joy of faith
slowly revive as a quiet yet firm trust,
even amid the greatest distress… (6)

If a stranger walked into this Church right now,
what would they see?
What impression would we give them?
Would they see the faces of people
who couldn’t think of a better place to be
on a cold and snowy Sunday morning?
Or would they see the faces of people
who are just waiting to get this over with?
If coming into our church
looks more like the waiting room at the dentist’s office
than it does the living room on Christmas morning
with eager youngsters gathered around the tree,
then we shouldn’t be too surprised
that our pews aren’t as full as they used to be.
How can we get others to accept the Good News
if all we do is go about saying, “Good grief”?

“Go,” Jesus said, “and tell John what you see:
the blind see and the lame walk…
and the deaf hear and the dead are raised
and the poor are told of good news.”
After long and patient waiting,
the prophecies of old were being fulfilled in him;
the Lord had come to save his people.
Imagine what an effect it would have on Malone
if people went forth from this place saying
that they had seen lives changed,
people singing and smiling,
welcoming the stranger and caring for each other as family—
Jesus’ twofold commandment of love being beautifully fulfilled.
It can be that way!  No—it must be that way!

On the two Sundays each year
that I come out wearing rose-colored vestments,
I see more smiling faces in the congregation
than I do at most any other time.
I’d wear this color every week if that were all it takes!

Joy—it has been wisely said—
is the infallible sign of the presence of God.  (cf. Léon Bloy)
Let’s make sure people can see that God is here.
Happiness attracts.
Be a joyful messenger preparing the way before the Lord.

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