Summary: How do we live in harmony? The secret is in the Lord’s Prayer, the beautiful prayer of the end-times that we recite in one voice every time we gather for Liturgy.
2nd Sunday of Advent
With this great reading about John the Baptist from Matthew’s Gospel, you probably expect me to sermonize on repenting of sin as a preparation for Christmas. You might anticipate an exhortation to examine your consciences, identify those actions and attitudes that estrange you from God, family and Church, repent of them and confess them during one of our reconciliation times. Those are all good ideas, and vital parts of Advent. But why would I spend the next ten minutes encouraging you to do something you already, as good Catholics, do every month or two anyway?
Let’s go a step further and listen to what St. Paul is telling us today: live in harmony with one another, live in accord with Christ Jesus, and together with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. What St. Paul wants us to do is, after repenting of sin and confessing it, to live the joyful life of virtue. And he has summed it up in one beautiful sentence. Live in harmony with one another; live in accord with Christ Jesus; together with one voice glorify God.
Saul was a scrappy little rabbi from the provinces brought up to the big leagues, studying in Jerusalem. He was a Pharisee, a strict observer of the Law of Moses. So many steps allowed on the Sabbath; wear a little box with a summary of the law dangling from your hat; no chicken parmesan or lobster thermador or pork tenderloin. He had been used to debating these upstart followers of the Way, these uneducated disciples of the rabbi Jeshua who kept claiming to be the Son of God. Roman justice had dealt with the heretic that many called the Messiah, but his body had disappeared. Now this Galilean rabble was claiming Him to be raised from the dead. Saul had gone so far as to assist at the illegal execution of the extremist Stephen, who dared to claim that the Chosen People had always resisted the work of the Holy Spirit. And Saul, filled with righteous indignation, had gone on to be #1 persecutor of these Jesus freaks. They were tearing up the community of Jews, and they had to be stopped.
But cocky Saul himself was stopped–stopped cold in his tracks as he walked with his companions to Damascus. An immense light filled his mind and heart even as it blinded his physical vision. He was in the presence of God–Yahweh Sabaoth. In that seared mind and burning heart he heard the divine voice, telling him that he was hurting the One he revered: Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? Who, me? Persecuting You? Could it be true? These Jesus-disciples, these rebels from the Law were in some way Jesus. And Jesus was God? And I’m the blasphemous idiot because I am opposing God? I, the valedictorian of my rabbinic school?
Saul became the apostle Paul. He spent the rest of his life applying his knowledge of Scriptures to developing a theology of Jesus, to understanding His plan for our happiness, and to spreading it throughout the Roman world. And he gives us in his letter to the Romans the Cliffnotes version of a life of virtue. One sentence to Christ-like living: live in harmony with one another, live in accord with Christ Jesus, and together with one voice glorify God.
To live in harmony with one another is to be Church. And how do we live in harmony? The secret is in the Lord’s Prayer, the beautiful prayer of the end-times that we recite in one voice every time we gather for Liturgy–at Mass, at Morning Prayer, at Evensong, at the sacraments. Forgive. To be forgiven by God of our many sins, we must first forgive those who sin against us. The power of God cannot be exercised in our community if we are full of resentment, if we fail to forgive. That means first we have to exercise micro-forgiveness–forgiving our spouse, our children, our next-door neighbor, the guy who cut us off in traffic--even our in-laws, for minor slights or major disruptions. It’s entirely one-sided. We forgive even if we aren’t asked for forgiveness. We forgive even if the one who hurt us isn’t sorry for the hurt. We forgive, we even pray for those who hurt us.
We also exercise what I call macro-forgiveness. We forgive and pray for the architects of the culture of death–the abortionists and the politicians who coddle them. We forgive and pray for the pornographers, the bigots, both religious and racial, the employer who fired us and sent our jobs to China. We forgive them and pray for their good, for their conversion. If we want the power of Christ to rule in our lives, as hard as it is, we must forgive those who have injured us. If we do, we can live in harmony.