Quite often there are times in our lives or in the life of our nation, especially during war times, we can point to as having been a “turning point.” For example, during the American Revolution the Battle of Saratoga is often called a turning point or the great Battle of Gettysburg during the American Civil War. World War II certainly had its turning points such as the Battle of Britain on the Western Front and the Battle for Moscow/Leningrad, now know by its original name of St. Petersburg, on the Eastern Front. However, these are all turning points in the sense of a tip in the balance of power or one warring side beginning to win the killing carnage. However, the turning point I am talking about here is a holy re-focusing on an immediate Coming.
So far, during the first three weeks of Advent the Church and hence, the Church’s Holy Liturgy has been focused on the Second Coming of Christ with many readings trying to prepare us for the Parousia, which is an ancient Greek word meaning a presence, an arrival, or official visit. However, beginning with the Fourth Sunday of Advent, the Church’s focus and the Liturgy – the Holy Mass – with its Sacred Scripture readings and prayers shift focus or re-direct our attention from the Second Coming of Christ to prepare for His more immanent First Coming at Christmas.
In the First Reading from the Prophet Isaiah, chapter 7 we see Isaiah prophesying 700 years before it happened, the Coming of the Messiah. God gives us a glimpse into what will happen: a Virgin, we know will be Mary, will conceive and bear a son, and she will name Him Emmanuel, which means God is with us. But, what is a virgin? A virgin is not an absence of something, in this case, sexual activity. It doesn’t mean something is missing, rather it means something is gained, fully integrated and whole with great integrity. A virgin is someone who is whole, meaning they have a wholeness or fullness. Why is there a store chain called “Whole Foods?” They are trying to say their foods are healthier and more wholesome for you. If so, why does this culture view virginity, honored from the ancient Church, something to be mocked, looked down upon and ridiculed? Why should we call food “wholesome” and better for you, while calling virginity and something truly wholesome, worse for you? This makes no real sense, but why should that surprise us, when Satan, who mocks God’s Holy and wholesome Creation, makes something good and holy appear bad for you. The Blessed Virgin Mary, who had the fullness of God within Her Immaculate womb, was missing nothing from this world, she wasn’t less than, she was greater than any human alive before, during, or ever will be. She conceived God in the flesh in her womb by the Power of the Holy Spirit when He overshadowed Her, as the Angel Gabriel will tell us, which is recorded in the Holy Gospels. We too, as Catholics, are to allow the Power of the Most High to overshadow us and allow the Christ Child to be conceived in our hearts and souls more deeply, if we too are to become fully whole, integrated and “virginal.” A virginal heart is not one constantly absorbed in oneself, and one’s own world, ideas, feelings and emotions, but a heart focused on God and His unconditional love for us and on others. We are not meant to be the center of the universe or our own lives, just as earth is not the center of the solar system – the sun is! We are to allow the Son of God to be the center of our lives and allow the beauty of His dawn to break upon us and open our hearts to Him and others. This is the whole point of the Responsorial Psalm: “Let the Lord enter; He is the king of glory.” He must be allowed to enter us more fully with His Divine Grace to heal us of our woundedness, self-absorption, mixed intentions, and sinful desires. He must be allowed to re-focus us off “the self,” which is not a true Christian perspective, and to focus on Him and the good of “the other.”
St. Paul reminds us in chapter one of his Letter to the Romans who we truly are in Christ: adopted sons and daughters set aside for “apostleship” who “belong” to Jesus Christ and not just ourselves. He also reminds us that we are called to become holy or wholesome and have a virginal self-giving heart. This is how Christ loved us and He commands us to not just love ourselves rightly, but also love others as He has loved us – unconditionally, and this will heal our self-centered, angry culture. The only real peace we will have can never be rooted in sin, but real peace that can only come from God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ and being in full communion with Him and having our whole identity within Him.
You will notice that in the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew, chapter one, even though St. Joseph needed a dream to understand more deeply the Incarnation of Jesus within the virginal Mary, since all of Mary is virginal and not just Her womb. Joseph was whole, virginal and completely self-giving. Due to Original Sin, the entire human race became captive, enslaved to Satan and the “self.” Jesus came to free us so we can be free to live for Him and others and not be enslaved to sin. Pope St. John Paul II in his catechesis: “Men and Women He Created Them-A Theology of the Body teaches us that the only way mankind can truly discover himself is by completely giving oneself away in true freedom. True freedom does not mean free to sin, but free to choose the good. If we cannot choose the good, we are not truly free, but enslaved by sin and hence Satan. Jesus tells us this in chapter 17 of St. Luke’s Gospel when He says: “Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses it will save it.” By giving ourselves away in a free, holy way to serve the other for the sake of the other (Christ-like) we will save our lives for eternity. Conversely, those who live their lives only for themselves and “preserve it” on earth will lose it eternally, (Satan-like). St. Joseph, whose heart was certainly God and other centered, gave Himself away to Mary and baby Jesus, demanding nothing for Himself. While our nation teaches us to take care of number one only (the self) and even protest and act uncivil and childish when you don’t get your way, this is not virginal, but a prideful self-absorbed heart. Jesus was born to free us from our self-preoccupation and give ourselves to others in a holy way, virtuous and virginal. St. Joseph awoke from his dream and took Mary into his home, not just the house made of stone, but the temple of His heart. St. John the Evangelist also took Mary into “his home,” but the Greek verb actually meant he took her into his very “being.” St. Joseph and St. John both took the Blessed Virgin Mary into their very beings by opening their hearts to God and letting Him enter in the silence and solitude of prayer. Who better to bring us to Jesus, but His Virginal Mother? Just as in the silence of that still, holy night, when the earth opened up her womb to receive the Christ, we are to open up and make vulnerable our pent up stony hearts. We are called to allow the Holy Spirit to un-hinge our hearts and allow the humble Christ-child to be re-created in us. St. John of the Cross once said: “Lord, if love is to slay me – the hour has now come.” If our hearts are to grow in love, and become gentle, tender, and virginal, then we need to say: “baby Jesus, Emmanuel come and slay us with Your love, because the hour has now come for me, our country and the world to be slain by Your tender, self-giving virginal heart.” Amen.
To Download a PDF Version of this Homily, Click Here: 4th Sunday of Advent – Year A
Father Tom DeSimone was ordained a priest on May 13, 2006, the Feast day of Our Lady of Fatima. He most recently served as Parochial Vicar of Our Lady of Sorrows Parish in White Plains, NY. He joins the staff of the Theology of the Body Institute on a three-year leave from the Archdiocese of New York, to become the Institute’s first full time spiritual advisor and Director of Clergy Development.