Sunday, December 6, 2009

Fr. Matthias Neuman's Homily for the 2nd Sunday in Advent

2nd Sunday of Advent - Dec. 6, 2009
Readings: Bar 5:1-9; Phil 1:4-11; Lk 3:1-6

John Patrick Shanley’s 2005 prize-winning play, Doubt, is constructed on a unique dynamic. (It’s been made into a movie and I know some of you have seen it.) The main protagonist is a Catholic sister who’s a school principal and she is absolutely convinced that a young associate pastor in the parish has been abusing one of the boys in school. The priest, however, adamantly denies this and maintains that nothing of the sort ever happened. The absoluteness of the two clashing positions creates doubt for everyone else, including the audience. By the end of the play no satisfactory resolution to the clash has been arrived at.

Today’s Gospel passage introduces John the Baptist, who will appear many more times in the remainder of Advent. John first announces a call to a baptism of repentance, but later he will increasingly become the herald of the approaching Messiah. He will "prepare the way of the Lord and make straight his paths." He will strongly proclaim Jesus as the "Lamb of God."

Along with all of the many accolades that John the Baptist has received, I’ve often thought of him as the patron saint of doubters. For as strong as he announces and heralds the coming of Jesus, toward the end of his life you have to wonder if he began to doubt a little. There is that curious passage in the eleventh chapter of Matthew’s gospel (11:1-6) where some of John’s disciples come to see Jesus while John is in prison. They say, "John said to ask you, ‘Are you the one who is to come or must we wait for another?’" You have to wonder if a little doubt had crept into John’s mind. We usually think of the Doubting Apostle Thomas as the patron saint of
doubters, but that’s hardly fair. His doubt gets taken away very soon by a spectacular sign from Jesus. John the Baptist, on the other hand, ---we don’t know in what state of mind he went to his death. He deserves much more to be the patron saint of doubters.

I bring up the subject of doubt because it serves as a counterweight to the theme of hope that we explored last Sunday. Hope is one of the greatest driving forces in Christian faith. But it doesn’t move forward without opposition. There will be doubts, to be sure, about many things concerning our faith. Modern Catholic theology looks at "doubt" differently than ages past. In older Catholic theology "doubt" was a term used to refer to deliberate rejection of some Christian doctrine. In contemporary theology "doubt" refers to a condition of mind that is often sincere and unavoidable when confronted with sudden evidence to the contrary. (Like a pediatric surgeon who has who has dedicated his life to saving children and who has three children die on the operating table in one day. He suddenly doubts if there is any hope in his job.) Doubts will come and they slow or give sudden pause. Our challenge is to hope and believe through them.

We do need to understand that doubts will come----to understand it for ourselves and for the sake of those we minister to. We Christians are going to have to learn to live with hope in an incredibly difficult social era. Last week’s issue of TIME magazine had as its major article, "The Decade from Hell." It called the first ten years of the new century the most dispiriting and disillusioning decade that Americans have faced since the Second World War. With all the tragedies that have occurred, people are going to have their doubts. Our challenge will be to continue to hope and believe through them. That is the message of the season of Advent.

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