Following is the prepared text from Bishop Olmsted’s homily from the Mass he celebrated with members of the Catholic Medical Association on December 5, 2019.
Please join me by praying the Psalm that the Church has employed for 2000 years just before praying Lauds or Morning Prayer in the Liturgy of the Hours: Psalm 95. The Psalter contains 150 Psalms; so, why does the Church begin each day praying this one? What is there about Psalm 95 that makes it the perfect prayer for beginning every day? Whatever it is will help us also to begin a new Church Year, to launch the season of Advent in December 2019.
The first word of verse one and verse six sets the tone: “Come!” We dare to make this imperative statement twice, just as we shall do every time that we sing the ancient Advent hymn, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel and ransom captive Israel!” But there is a big difference between these two imperatives. In Psalm 95, both times that we say “Come” we are voicing the call of Mother Church to all us, her children, to be wide awake and eager to worship the Lord. This is a wake-up call, a summons to duty, a command that corresponds to a keen need of our soul. As creatures and beloved sons and daughters of our eternal Creator and Father, we need to come and worship Him; for He deserves our praise; And, without Him we can do nothing, yet nothing is impossible with God.
“Come,” then, this one-word imperative is a good prayer. Fr. Robert Spitzer, SJ, says that we should not overlook the power of one-word prayers. Another one he highly recommends is this, “Help!” The Church agrees; but prefers to use the one-word command given to us by God Himself to begin the Psalter and to begin Advent, “Come!”
Verse 7 of Psalm 95 introduces another key word of the mystery of Advent: “Today.” “Today, listen to the voice of the Lord. Do not grow stubborn, as your fathers did in the wilderness…at Meriba and Massah…”
Which direction should we be looking during the season of Advent? Three! Backwards, forward, and to the present time and place. Let me briefly explain.
Backwards: There is one paragraph in the Catechism of the Catholic Church that speaks about advent, #524. Notice how it invites us to look back and notice God’s actions in the history of the world: “When the Church celebrates the liturgy of Advent each year, she makes present this ancient expectancy of the Messiah, for by sharing in the long preparation for the Savior’s first coming, the faithful renew their ardent desire for His second coming. By celebrating the precursor’s birth and martyrdom, the Church unites herself to his desire: “He must increase, but I must decrease.”
Our Creator gave us the gift of memory to allow us to recall with amazement all the mighty deeds and wondrous ways that He has, as Zechariah said (Lk 1:68) “come to His people and set them free.” Remembering these wondrous events of Redemption, we desire to give Him glory, honor and praise.
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said the following about this rich liturgical season:
“Advent’s intention is to awaken the most profound and basic emotional memory within us, namely the memory of the God who became a child. This is a healing memory: it brings hope.
The purpose of the Church’s year is continually to rehearse her great history of memories, to awaken the heart’s memory so that it can discern the star of hope. It is the beautiful task of Advent to awaken in all of us memories of goodness and thus to open doors of hope.”
Forward. This is the second direction to which Advent invites us to look. God created us with a longing for something more than this world can give. We not only remember with gratitude God’s wondrous deeds in the past, we also, as we say in the last line of the Nicene Creed, “…look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Amen.”
During the first part of Advent we look not backward toward Jesus’ first coming in Bethlehem but forward to Christ’s return at the end of time as the King of kings and Lord of lord. Then will He bring to completion God’s rule of peace and justice announced by the angels at His birth.
The Present moment. In the second sentence of the first paragraph of the Catechism, the Church lifts up a wondrous truth about the present time and place. Listen to this sentence of the Catechism: “…at every time and in every place, God draws close to man.”
In order to encounter the Lord in the present moment, we need to practice the virtue of patience. By God’s design, Advent is a season of patience. Patience strengthened the saints of Old Testament times, like Simeon and Anna, to wait without losing hope for God’s promises to be fulfilled. Patience fortified Mary the Mother of God to await the birth of her Child without losing heart even though Joseph could not understand how she could be with child. In our own time of scandal, this virtue is needed to be a faithful disciple of Jesus.
But what does the virtue of patience look like? I recommend the description of Fr. Robert McTiegue, SJ), “Patience is a resolution to endure the storm.” Patience strengthens us for spiritual battle. Ben Sirach, in the Old Testament, was speaking about this virtue when he told his son (Sir. 2:4-5), “Accept whatever befalls you. In crushing misfortune be patient. For in fire gold is tested, and worthy men in the crucible of humiliation.”
Patience during times that test our souls is what St. Paul was talking about when he wrote to the Corinthians (2 Cor 6:4-8, 10): “…In everything we commend ourselves as ministers of God, through much endurance, in afflictions, hardships, constraints, beatings, imprisonment, riots, labors, vigils, fasts; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, in a holy spirit, in unfeigned love, in truthful speech, in the power of God, with the weapons of righteousness at the right and at the left; through glory and dishonor, insult and praise…as sorrowful yet always rejoicing, as poor yet enriching many, as having nothing and possessing all.”
We do well to remember all three comings of Christ: past, present and future. But the one that matters most is “today.” Returning to Psalm 95, verses 7-9, the Church exhorts us, each morning, “Today, listen to the voice of the Lord: Do not grow stubborn, as your fathers did in the wilderness, when at Meriba and Massah ;they challenged me and provoked me, although they had seen all my works.”
To help us make our Advent journey 2019, the Church invites us to draw close to the Virgin Mary as we honor her on December 8th, her Immaculate Conception, and remember her appearance as Our Lady of Guadalupe on the 12th. With the help of Our Lady, we learn how to say our own “Fiat”, our own YES to God’s call. We learn how to welcome Jesus as He comes to us now, in AD 2019.
Ultimately, our life on earth has meaning only insofar as we are prepared to meet Christ when He comes at the hour of our death. God wants us all to be ready for that moment. He gives us all we need to be irreproachable at His coming. Our failures, our suffering, our disappointments, even our successes and earthly praise have meaning only insofar as they help us to love Jesus more each day and prepare us to embrace the Lord when He comes in glory. In the end, nothing else matters.
This is what Jesus is getting at in Advent when He says repeatedly, “Be watchful! Be alert!” Be on guard against temptations of the Evil One, who tries to distract us from our final goal, from the purpose for which God made us: to be one for all eternity with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.