Fourth Sunday of Advent in the Liturgical Year of 2020 – 2021

Homily by Fr. James DiLuzio CSP

“In the Bleak Mid-Winter frosty winds made moan

Earth stood hard as iron

Water like a stone;

Snow had fallen, snow on snow,

Snow on snow

In the Bleak Mid-Winter long ago.”   Christina Rossetti

Think back to the days of childhood. Was there ever enough snow?  Nothing bleak about a beautiful, bountiful snowfall. The rush to breakfast, dress for school, last minute homework –all activity suspended, all sound sublimated to silence: traffic stopped—no one is driving at all; no horns blowing, no cop whistles.  Maybe the sound of a foghorn announcing School is closed.  After that, all is still.   All is hushed.  Oatmeal never tasted so good as on a snowy morning.

There is an inner child in us all, in whom our hopes and dreams are ever-present –even now when we, fully grown-up, might grouse, bemoan the shoveling, the icy obstacles to our best laid plans.  Yet even we men and women, waking up to a frosty morn, pause perhaps for yet one more cup of coffee, a deep breath, a long sigh, maybe even a nostalgic note of youthful fantasies before embarking upon our day.

I still dream of bountiful snowfalls. For me, this week’s meager 8 inches were a major disappointment.  Don’t you, too, long for a change from “busy, busy, busy?”  Even when we plan an expected day off, we plan and schedule much too much.  We need more Snow to SURPRISE US, drift us into empty space, nothingness, empty vessels awaiting fulfillment from God.  TIMELESSNESS, dear friends, is true Spirituality: A CONSCIOUSNESS of immanence, of the presence, the power that sustains beating hearts, pulsating lungs.  Advent, now beginning its fourth week, has been calling us to just that kind of “slow down,” inviting us to question how we choose to live out our days.

In some ways, this pandemic has been and continues to be a kind of Advent, a slowing down, an ever-expanding snowy day. Blanketed in sickness and death for millions, with millions more grieving, yet not without hope, not without cultivating in many of us a desire for self-care equally aligned with care for our neighbors. 2020 has heightened our sensibilities to our mortality—as the Cross of Jesus has been doing for 2,000 years. This year, Nature Herself has compelled us to attend to the vulnerable because of our own vulnerabilities in the same way Advent prepares us for deeper insights into Jesus.  We, the remnant, the survivors of the year, should be filled with gratitude and, hopefully, now more than ever, appreciating interruption, inconvenience, postponement as the means to be present to one another, aware of “God With Us” in life and in death. And is not PRAYER a postponement?  It interrupts our activities, however, essential, however important we deem them to be.  Why, to many Catholics, even MASS is an inconvenience.  But dare I say, at its heart, Mass is a respite, a pregnant pause for God not unlike the Annunciation of the Angel Gabriel to Mary –a marvelous interruption!   Mass can be our “Snowy Day.”  And the Gospel today reveals that our Blessed Mother was remarkably prepared for it!

Have you ever thought of this:  what were Mary’s goals, hopes, dreams beforeGabriel appeared?  What were her plans for her day?  I am sure she was set to do all that was expected of her– kindling the household fire, fetching water at the well, kneading dough, sweeping for a lost coin.  And what of her life’s ambition, her long-term objectives?  Marriage to a rabbi perhaps?  Or another man of equal status or position? Did Joseph match her expectations or was it a match arranged by her parents? How did she come to love Joseph?  What kind of home did she envision for herself and her husband?  Did she want a large family — children, adorable children bustling about home and hearth?   We tend not to acknowledge this basic, entirely human dimension of Mary’s story because we often rush to the end and take much for granted along the way.  

Clearly, our Blessed Mother was invited to postpone her plans just as we have and will continue to do because life will always assault us with interruptions!  Yes, “the best laid plans of mice and men!”  Mary was humble enough to be open, to be fluid and flexible because she evidently devoted considerable time in her days to stop and be still, for pregnant paused to ponder Scripture, Sacred Prophecies, Holy Days, and rituals –to be mindful of God.  Her assent to Gabriel’s announcement could only have come if she had already cultivated a prayerful pace for living. Taking time to affirm for herself that she could believe, she would believe in a promised Messiah, before knowing that she would be the chosen vessel of his Incarnation.

In these final days of Advent, I invite us to carefully, mindfully, cultivate a Snowy Day Sensibility, A Marian Spirituality to live mindfully, moment to moment in HOPE, cultivating Faith’s WISDOM.  Above all, that means we must reclaim and acclaim Jesus as our model for daily living, for we, too, are vessels of Christ’s presence in this world.  2020 has made us ever more attentive to the realities of our human condition. Mary’s assent that we need a Messiah needs to be ours, too. Pause. Ponder. Be Still. Know who you are, continue to hold in your heart all that we are celebrating Now, this day, and Christmas Day, and onward to eternity.  Let it snow!  Let it snow!  Let it snow!

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