Jesus Our Shepherd
Mark 13:33-37
1st Sunday of Advent

Homily for 27 November 2005
Fr. Frank Baiocchi

Yesterday the old church year ended. Today a new one begins. Each time we complete this cycle, we recognize that we are all a little older than before. Do we ever ask whether we are also a little wiser and a little more full of grace? Remember the young Jesus getting lost in Jerusalem, taking his lumps from his parents, then returning to Nazareth where he grew in age and wisdom and grace? That’s our task: to grow in age, wisdom and grace. The “age” thing takes care of itself. But growing in wisdom and grace takes real effort on our part. All through the Gospels, Jesus is inviting us not to keep the faith, not to defend the faith, but to grow in faith. As the years pass, are we actually growing in our faith, or are we simply hanging on to an immature faith from our past?

Remember the idea of an All-Powerful God that we learned as little kids? God was the One who rewarded the good and punished the evil. Morality was a deeply private matter. Something was good if it got me an ice cream cone, bad if it got me spanked. Heaven and hell were prominently featured! And if we were Catholic, we brought our laundry list of sins to confession each week to be forgiven, only to repeat the same sins the following week. Not very mature, was it? Neither wise nor full of grace nor growth oriented!

Later perhaps, we did grow a bit wiser. We recognized that we do not live isolated lives. We are family members, parishioners, citizens of a community and of a nation. We realized that other people mattered too, not just ourselves. We began to see that we ought to get along with other people, and one of the ways of doing that was following the rules. Obeying rules became important for us, as did being popular, because we all wanted to be thought well of by others So morality became a matter of pleasing people and playing by the rules. And of course the Accountant God was keeping the book on each of us.

Maybe we still believe in the God of rewards and punishments. Maybe we still pledge our allegiance to the Accountant God who carefully records our behaviors and misbehaviors. But if this is the only God we believe in, then we lack wisdom and grace. We’re not growing! Grace is our sharing in God’s very nature. But God’s nature is to love. If we’re failing to love well, we’re failing to be full of grace!

As we begin this new church year, we need to grow in faith. We need a new consciousness about God and ourselves. In today’s Gospel, Jesus is telling us to wake up, to be alert, not to be conducting business as usual. If we really want to grow, we need to come to know God not simply as Rewarder/Punisher, nor as Accountant, but as “Abba,” the One who loves us passionately. If we really want to be “full of grace,” we need to reflect the love and compassion of our Abba God. Ultimately, that is our destiny. That is the criterion upon which we will be judged: how much like Abba God are we with each other? May this new church year be our year of personal growth, not just in age, but in wisdom and grace too!