Deacon Bob’s Homily for the first Sunday of Advent 2022 (Mt 24:37-44)
If you’re like me, when you heard this gospel, you probably thought to yourself, O, that’s the rapture that I’ve heard about, where some are taken, and everyone else is “left behind”. According to Brant Pitre, that’s not what Jesus is describing here. There is no rapture. The key is to look at the context.
Jesus begins by saying, As it was in the days of Noah, everyone is going about engaged in their normal, regular activities and out of the blue, the storm came, and the flood washed them away, everyone except Noah and his family. So too, when the Son of Man comes, people will be engaged in their normal, regular activities, one will be taken, and one will be left. Jesus is describing a separation just like in the days of Noah. Then he concludes with ‘you must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.’
Last Sunday our small group had a great discussion and it centered around the question – are you ready? If you were to die today, are you ready to stand before Jesus in judgment? We all did some serious soul searching and you might want to do this in your family, just go around and ask, are you ready? It’s a great opportunity to take a serious look in our soul and ask what do I really believe?
In our small group, we all had slightly different perspectives; but as we talked about it, I think all of us had a sense that although we weren’t perfect, we could trust in His mercy. That leads into what I want to reflect on today which is, how can we be confident in our salvation knowing that we sin?
This is a big question. If we get it wrong, we can really go astray. Martin Luther struggled a lot with scrupulosity, and he answered the question with his doctrine of sola fide, that we are justified by faith alone, not by our personal holiness. He said I could commit adultery 100 times a day and it would not affect my justified status before God.
In our day, many people answer the question by saying that no one goes to hell. How could a God who is all love send a soul to hell? I had a discussion with a very nice lady who believed this. So, I asked her, do you believe that God loves everyone, yes; God loves everyone he ever created, yes; then God loves Satan, I never thought about that.
God does love everyone He ever created, including Satan. So, why is he in hell? How is that possible? Because that was his choice. He chose himself over God. And that gets to the heart of my question. Every time we sin, we choose ourselves over God, so, how can we be confident in our salvation?
I’m going to answer with the help of St. Therese of Lisieux, the Little Flower. Doctor of the Church and as one Cardinal said, the Catholic response to Protestantism. She struggled with the same scrupulosity that Martin Luther did, but she responded very differently. Pope Pius XII said, “she rediscovered the Gospel itself, the very heart of the Gospel. “
I will focus especially on her confidence. Her superior Mother Agnes said confidence was the special mark of her soul. Therese said, “My way is one that is full of confidence and love.” Confidence in God’s mercy and love, not in herself. She illustrates this with the story of St. Peter at the Last Supper when he swore that he would die for Jesus. She says this incident showed Peter and all of us, that our confidence cannot be in ourselves. It must be in God and His mercy.
I’m going to start with an objection; because there is a temptation for us to say, well of course St. Therese is confident, she’s a saint. She could say that from the age of 3 she never refused God anything. Our temptation is to say, well if I could say that, then of course I would be confident too.
Over and over St. Therese says that it is not because God has preserved her from grave sin that she is confident; it is all based in Him and His infinite mercy. She said to Mother Agnes “You may truly say that if I had committed all possible crimes, I would still have the same confidence; I would feel that this multitude of offenses would be like a drop of water thrown into a flaming furnace.” On another occasion, “even if I had on my conscience all the sins which can be committed, I would go, my heart broken, to repent and throw myself into the arms of Jesus, for I know how much he cherishes the prodigal child who returns to Him.”
Finally, shortly before she died, she was impatient with one of the Sisters, and the Sister called her on it. She responded, “How happy I am to see myself imperfect and having so great a need of receiving the mercy of God at the moment of death!” This one perplexed me for a long time. I could understand that she accepted that she was imperfect and would trust in God’s mercy; but how could she possibly be happy about it? The commentaries say it’s not that she is happy about her fall; but she’s happy about what it will lead to. She knows that when she tells Jesus how sorry she is, He will lift her up and love her in her weakness. Here we can see Therese’s greatness.
There are 2 images that have came to me while I was praying about this. The first is that when we love someone, we want to do for them. For example, as you know my wife Joni has health issues, and one of the things she is supposed to avoid is bending down to pick things up; so, when we get ready for dinner and I see her head to the oven to bend down and pick something up, I go over and say hey, let me do that. It’s a little nothing but I want to do it because I can and she can’t, or at least she shouldn’t. Jesus is pure goodness, pure love; we aren’t. We’re weak. Out of the fullness of who He is, He wants to forgive us. St. John Vianney said “God’s greatest pleasure is to pardon us.” And again, “The good Lord is more eager to pardon a repentant sinner than a mother to rescue her child from the fire.” He wants to forgive us, just like we want to do what we can for those we love. For those of us who know our need for mercy, to know that He wants to forgive us is huge.
The second image is teaching our child to walk. We pick up our little one, prop her up against the wall, and then move away and say, okay sweetie, come to me. She immediately stretches out her arms and starts to walk, takes 2 or 3 steps and then down she goes. What is our first instinct? Immediately we reach down and pick her up and love her and encourage her to try again. That’s how Therese saw God with her in her falls.
So, how can we be confident in our salvation even when we sin? We tell Jesus how sorry we are and believe in His love, believe in merciful love!
So, brothers and sisters, as we begin this season of Advent, let us prepare ourselves, let us get ready, go to confession, and tell Jesus how sorry we are knowing that He wants to forgive us. And let us look forward to meeting this God who loves us so much. God bless you.