3rd Sunday of Advent /Our Lady of Guadalupe -He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
A friend of mine is a CEO of his own company, and he and I get together every once in a while to “talk shop” and to see how we each are doing. More than once - quite a few times in fact - my friend has spoken about one of his employees who is doing great work - how she has really taken charge of a certain project and has made it really successful. He seemed amazed at what she is doing. He mentioned casually that he hired her because he is good friends with her father. She was going through a difficult time, and because of his relationship with her father, he gave her an opportunity to try her hand at this job. That’s how things often work in business - people get hired because of a personal connection. I didn’t think much of it. But just recently, I found out, through a different source, that nearly 10 years ago, this same woman committed a crime and spent time in jail. Convicted criminals often have a very difficult time reintegrating in society and becoming productive members of society when released from prison because of the stigma of the conviction. They’ve “paid their dues” to society by serving their sentence, but few employers want to give them a chance. It is hard for them in the eyes of others not to be defined by the crime they’ve committed. “He’s a convicted felon”; “She’s an offender”; “he’s a drug dealer”. Just stopping doing what is wrong or being told what the right thing to do is not enough to turn our lives around and become productive members of society. Simply being sorry for our sins is not enough. We need an encounter with Divine Mercy. We need someone to look at us with mercy and not define us by our sin. We need to see ourselves as loved, wanted, and valued - that we are more than our sins. We are incapable of loving someone if we have not recognized that we have been loved - have the clear perception of being wanted, of being desired, of being loved. We are incapable of “producing good fruits” unless we have this self-awareness of being loved. St. John the Baptist called the people to repentance, and many became convicted of their sinfulness but were at a loss as to what they should do. John exhorted them, “Produce good fruits as evidence of your repentance”. They all asked him in turn, “what should we do?” He tells them to be charitable, to be just, to not abuse their power or authority, and to not be greedy. They were filled with expectation. “Is it possible to live this way?” We all know what it is like to know what is right, desire what is right, but also be aware of our own weakness and incapacities. I can’t get there on my own. From this experience comes the longing for the savior. “They were asking in their hearts whether John might be the Messiah.” John says to them, “I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming… He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” It is not simply the conviction of our sinfulness or knowing what we are supposed to do that will change us, but we have to be “baptized” or immersed in the love of God. “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” John uses the image of the “winnowing fan” to describe how Jesus will separate the wheat from the chaff and gather the wheat into his barn, i.e., into his Kingdom. The winnowing fan was a specially designed basket. When the heads of wheat were placed in it and shaken, the husk or chaff would be separated from the grain of the wheat. When air is then blow over the wheat or the wheat is thrown up into the wind, the lighter chaff is blown away and the grains fall back to the floor or remain and are gathered together. The Holy Spirit - the fire of God’s love - burns away or blows away the chaff of our sins - separates us from our sins. Only an encounter with love will do this for us. Without an encounter of mercy that is more defining than our sins, we remain attached or stuck in our sin, afraid of being judged, and discouraged at every fall or mistake. If we don’t experience this unconditional love that sees more in us than our evil, we cannot love others or “produce good fruits as evidence of our repentance.” Our failures, betrayals, and even the big disasters of our life are permitted by God so that now we can remember Him - remember that we need a savior. We shout with joy and rejoice not because we are good, but because even in our sinfulness and weakness, God rejoices over us. He comes to renew us in his love. This is the “good news”. We are joyful because God in his mercy has come near to us - he is in our midst. To know ourselves loved in this way gives us a peace “that surpasses all understanding” - I’m loved when I did nothing to earn it or deserve it! That awareness allows us to live reality with joy, in good times and bad, without anxiety. I’m free of anxiety because my worth is not dependent on my goodness or the opinions of others but on God’s goodness to me - his mercy that endures forever. What struck me about my friend and the situation with his employee was that what generated the new life in her was that my friend had a relationship with her father. Loving her father - being friends with her father, his heart was attuned to her father’s heart, and he looked at this woman not based on her crimes but through the eyes of her father. He looked at her with a father’s love. Jesus came to reveal the heart of the Father to us - a heart of mercy. Are we looking at each other through the eyes of our heavenly Father? Are we looking at each other with mercy? We experience the winnowing fan of Christ in the sacrament of Confession. Sometimes we have to be shaken up and broken apart by our sinfulness to realize our need for a savior, but we won’t be separated from our sins and produce good fruit until we experience God’s merciful love. If you haven’t been to confession in some time and feel “stuck” in some way, this Advent is the time to go to celebrate the sacrament of the Lord’s mercy. May we make our requests known to God by prayer and petition and thanksgiving - remembering that God is with us and looks on us with joy and love.
The remainder of the text was added for the homily at the 12:00 p.m. Spanish Mass in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
In the account of the apparitions of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Juan Diego was asked by Our Lady to go tell the bishop that the Virgin Mary, the Mother of the true God, has sent him to tell him that she desires that a temple be built in her honor below the hill of Tepayac. Juan Diego went to the Bishop and told him the message. The bishop was kind to him but asked him to come back later when he would have more time to hear the whole story. Juan Diego went away sad, thinking he had failed - that the Bishop did not believe him because he was nobody important. How did Juan Diego see himself? He told Our Lady, “Bien sabes que yo soy un hombrecillo, soy gente menuda, soy un cordel, una escalerilla de tablas, un montón de hojas secas. No soy nada.” He doesn’t see himself as having worth - as being loved. Our Lady says to Juan Diego, “I have many servants I could ask to do this task, but I desire that it is through you that my wish be fulfilled.” She has a preference for Juan Diego. Juan Diego goes back to the bishop but still doubts himself - “Pero acaso no seré oído con agrado, o si fuere oído, quizás no se me creerá.” Once again, the bishop did not believe Juan Diego. The bishop asked for a sign, and Juan Diego reported this back to Our Lady. Our Lady promises that tomorrow she will provide for him the sign the bishop needs to believe him. But when Juan Diego returned home, he found his uncle deathly ill. He couldn’t find a doctor for his uncle, and when his uncle was resigned to die, Juan Diego went to find a priest to give his uncle the last sacraments to prepare him for death. He knew he had this mission to do for Our Lady, but he was worried and anxious about his uncle. Juan Diego tries to avoid meeting Our Lady by taking a different path, but she comes to him - meets him on the way. She says to him, “Oye y ten entendido, hijo mío, el más pequeño, que es nada lo que te asusta y te aflige; no se turbe tu corazón; no temas esa enfermedad ni otra alguna enfermedad y angustia. ¿No estoy yo aquí, que soy tu madre? ¿No estás bajo mi sombra? ¿No soy yo tu salud?” Now, Juan Diego was greatly consoled and very happy. He responds immediately to her request to go to the top of the hill to find the flowers. And with peace, calm, and certainty goes to see the bishop. He had no doubt that this time he would be believed. What changed Juan Diego? What moved him to follow without hesitation or self-doubt? He was looked at with tenderness and love. Through Our Lady, he experienced the mercy of the Lord. Mary appears as a pregnant young woman. She brings God to us in a human way. Through Mary, we meet Christ “in the flesh”, through a human encounter. How does Mary do this? She herself has received a great mercy. She was conceived without sin. She, who represents “daughter Zion”, is the fulfillment of the prophecy of Zephaniah. The Lord has removed the judgment against her. With her Immaculate Conception, he has “turned away” the enemy of sin. The King of Israel is in her midst. She carries within her the savior and bears him to the world.
If you suffer from anxiety or self-doubt or if you find yourself defining yourself by “success” in worldly terms or are preoccupied with your failures and sins, go to Mary. Listen to Mary. She sees you with a pure heart - with a heart united to the heart of Jesus. The “good fruit” of Guadalupe began when Juan Diego became aware that he was loved by God. The certainty he was given came through an encounter with mercy - not by seeing the miracle. Our joy and peace come in the same way. May we receive his mercy and love so we too will produce good fruits for the Lord and our kindness will be known to all.