Sunday Sermon for December 8, 2013, the Second Sunday of Advent, Year A

Readings: Is 1:1-10; Rom 15:4-9; Mt 3:1-12
In the second reading today St. Paul tells us that what was written previously was written for our instruction that we might have hope through the encouragement of the Scriptures. He goes on to pray that God will grant the grace to think in harmony with one another in keeping with Christ.

We need, first of all, to address the point of thinking in harmony with one another. St. Paul is not suggesting that he wants us all to be alike in our personalities and powers. In other words, he would not say that an engineer and an artist should think the same way. Rather, what he is saying is that when it comes to matters of truth and charity we should all think the same way. This implies that we should have charity and understanding toward one another and embracing the truth in its fullness (which is Jesus) without watering it down or trying to find ways around it.

What is important is the fact of being in harmony with one another in Christ. There is nothing else in this world that can provide that kind of unity. But, before we can have unity with one another in Christ, we have to be in union with Jesus ourselves. This is basically the same thing St. John the Baptist is saying in the Gospel when he tells the Pharisees that they cannot hide behind the idea that Abraham is their father. While it is true that they were children of Abraham, they were not fully living what that really meant.

We, too, who profess our faith in Jesus cannot hide behind that statement. It is true that we believe in Him, but now we have to live it. This means embracing truth and charity. Recognizing the dignity of each person and treating each person as one made in the image and likeness of God and redeemed by the Blood of Jesus is the only way the harmony spoken of by St. Paul can be achieved. We must acknowledge and accept the legitimate differences in people, but if we all believe in the fullness of truth and strive to act in charity toward one another, there will be real unity and harmony.

Of course, before there can be this external kind of unity and charity there has to be an internal unity. In the first reading Isaiah tells us that many opposites will be united: the wolf and the lamb, the leopard and the kid, the cow and the bear, etc. We can certainly see how this can be applied to people with different personalities and preferences. However, it can also be applied to ourselves internally when we consider our own virtues and vices.

In Jesus and by the grace of God we can each work on the areas in our lives that cause us to sin. It could be our anger, our selfishness, our dishonesty, our lust, or whatever other vices you can perceive in your own life. If we are willing to cooperate with the Lord in this endeavor things that have been opposites in our lives can suddenly be in harmony. This requires effort on our part, but most of all it requires prayer, seeking the grace of God, and striving to cooperate with that grace. We need to be resolute in our desire to uproot these areas of vice from our lives, but if we are willing to put forth the effort the interior peace that will follow in time will make the struggle worthwhile.

Once that interior peace is there we can be at peace with others. We will be far more compassionate with their problems because we have seen for ourselves just how difficult it is to root out vice from our own lives. When we are cognizant of our own weaknesses and sinfulness we are able to excuse the weaknesses of others and not stand in judgment of them.

Once we have recognized and acknowledged our own sinfulness then we have to follow what is written in the Scriptures, as we are instructed by St. Paul. St. John the Baptist tells us that we are to repent. The repentance he is looking for is not the mere acknowledgement of the sin, but the willfulness to change. For this we will need the gifts of the Holy Spirit, as enumerated in the first reading. We all know we have to change, but actually doing it is a huge challenge for us. This is where the hope that comes from encouragement and endurance, mentioned in the second reading, must be applied. With God’s help, we can overcome our problems, we can be at peace within ourselves because we are at peace with God, and then we can extend that peace beyond ourselves and be at harmony with others in Christ.

Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit