The moment is almost here.
“The mystery kept secret for long ages… [is soon to be] manifested” (Rom 16:25).
Before we race ahead, though, let us linger a bit more on today’s mystery. If we are not careful, we can overlook it.
Yes, one of the greatest mysteries is that the Word became flesh. But we just heard the account of the Annunciation, the moment when this Word became flesh. Today, we’re nine months from that moment when Our Lady uttered, “Fiat.” Joseph invites us to join him and lovingly look at Mary, pregnant, very pregnant and beautiful, full of eager hope and anticipation. And we are in awe: this Incarnate Word is in Mary’s womb! She contains God!
Let us go deeper by looking back to the first reading. We saw how David was suddenly alarmed. While he dwells in a palace, the Ark has no dignified place to rest. In a sense, God is without a home. God asks David through Nathan, “Should you build me a house to dwell in?” (2 Sam 7:5). It’s as if God is implying, “I appreciate your concern for me. You desire a dignified resting place for me. Thank you. But just you wait…I myself will create that resting place.” And Joseph nudges us and nods toward his wife, “Here she is. She is the resting place, the home, the temple!”
We speak of the theology of the body, that is, in its most basic terms, that the body reveals something of the divine. From today’s readings, the woman, Mary, is showing us that God can dwell among us, moreover, he can dwell in us. What takes place in Mary, the Word made flesh, is a sign of the mystery that occurs in each one of us in a sacramental way, which is different than her pregnancy, but no less real. God finds his home in us. Indeed, St. Paul appeals to the Romans, reminding them that Jesus’ Spirit dwells in them (cf. Rom 8:11). Even more poignantly, we read in 1 Cor 6:19: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God?”
What does this mean for us? Listen to this reflection by St. John Paul II:
“The fruit of redemption is indeed the Holy Spirit, who dwells in man and his body as in a temple. In this Gift, which makes every human being holy, the Christian receives himself anew as a gift from God” (TOB 56:4).
Let’s pause and marvel. We speak of Christmas gifts. We are really only trying to imitate God, the first. Giver. God, the Father, gives his Son. And as if that weren’t enough, they give the Person-Gift, the Spirit. So kids, when you’re asked, “What did you get for Christmas?” Just say, “Oh, nothing much. I just received the very Holy Spirit in my body! Yeah, I’m a temple of God.” We say this a bit in jest, but it’s such a wonder.
The pope continues, lest we neglect the significance of the gift:
“This new twofold gift gives rise to an obligation. The Apostle refers to this dimension of obligation when he writes to believers, who are aware of the Gift, to convince them not to commit ‘unchastity,’ not to ‘sin against their own bodies’ (1 Cor 6:18)” (TOB 56:4).
We take unchastity in its fullest sense: the disintegration of our wholeness, the fragmenting of ourselves, looking more to steal pleasures without any sense of self-gift nor the commitment and reverence of love. St. Paul encourages us on this point, “You are not your own; you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Cor 6:19b-20).
An aim of the Incarnation was redemption and this redemption makes us that dwelling place of the Spirit. If the Spirit is in us, in our bodies, then we are to glorify him in our bodies. What a tremendous and weighty reality. John Paul II says:
“It is difficult to express more concisely what the mystery of the Incarnation implies for every believer. … The redemption of the body brings with it the establishment in Christ and for Christ of a new measure of the holiness of the body. Paul appeals precisely to this holiness when he writes…that one should ‘keep one’s own body with holiness and reverence’ (1 Thess 4:4).” (TOB 56:4).
We all abuse ourselves and undervalue ourselves and our bodies in so many ways. We don’t say this to get beat up on ourselves, but rather to prompt reflection and to waken us to the Gift and the awesome dignity we have, and this doesn’t just mean the soul – we are body and soul.
I think a simple way to begin to grasp how this truth should change us is to picture being face-to-face with Mary again – young, eager, pregnant, lovely Mary. Reverence swells up spontaneously. And we can literally bow before her as we genuflected when we came into the Church. As we kneel, she stoops down a bit, puts her hand under our chin to lift our gaze to hers. Her face, oh, her face: it is the icon of a fire within. You don’t want to look away. Then, she takes your trembling hand and directs it to her rounded belly and you feel it, a kick, God’s kick. Suddenly you are overwhelmed with fear and joy and amazement and confusion, and you are met with your smallness and yet you feel something come alive in you. This is the Spirit. The same Spirit by whom Mary conceived this baby.
God chooses to dwell in me and my neighbor, in your masculine or your feminine body. It is, therefore, a day for deep reverence for our own bodies and for those of our neighbor. It is a day of self-gift. In short, let is repeat: you are God’s home. The Lord wants to dwell deeply within you and to burst forth from you, from your radiant smile, from your serving hands, from your arms that embrace, yes, from your body. Mary, please teach us the way.
To download a PDF version of this homily, click here: Fourth Sunday of Advent
Fr. Steven Costello was ordained a priest with the Legionaries of Christ on December 12, 2011. Prior to entering the seminary, he majored in Music Education at the University of Central Florida. His main instrument is trombone and he particularly enjoys Mahler’s Symphonies. He is currently in the revision process of his doctoral dissertation through the John Paul II Institute in Washington, DC. The topic is the human person in light of the heart of Christ. He has participated in both the TOB I: Head & Heart Immersion and TOB & Art: The Way of Beauty courses and served as chaplain for TOB I. In August 2017, he began his role as chaplain at Divine Mercy University in Arlington, VA.