Weekly Homilies

Advent: You Are Not Alone (Luke 3: 1-6)

December 05, 2021 Fr. Mark Suslenko Season 5 Episode 2
Weekly Homilies
Advent: You Are Not Alone (Luke 3: 1-6)

Hi everyone, and welcome to Weekly Homilies with Father Mark Suslenko, Pastor of SS. Isidore and Maria Parish in Glastonbury, Connecticut. We are part of the Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford. I'm Carol Vassar, parish director of communications, and this is Episode 2 of Season 5 for the second Sunday of Advent: December 5, 2021. Our Gospel reading is from Luke,  Chapter 3, verses 1-6

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the desert.

John went throughout the whole region of the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah:

A voice of one crying out in the desert:

    “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.

    Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low.

    The winding roads shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”

The Gospel of the Lord

“You Are Not Alone," by Father Mark S. Suslenko, Pastor, SS. Isidore and Maria Parish, Glastonbury, Connecticut

I remember a time quite some time ago when winter was my friend and I enjoyed skiing. Winter is no longer my friend nor do I enjoy skiing. But in that time, long ago, it was commonplace for my buddies and I to decide to take a weekend jaunt up to either Vermont or to New Hampshire for a weekend of skiing. And, over time, we were able to somewhat perfect our ability to do this sport.

We graduated, of course, from the bunny hill and went to the easy slope, then to a little bit more challenging one, and then we got the moxie one day to make the decision to do the diamond slope. This was the worst decision I ever made in my life. 

As we're going to the diamond slope, we get off the chairlift, and, for a while, everything seemed to be fine. And off in the distance, there was a group of people looking at something. So as we approached, we found what they were looking at, and it was this ditch, this terrain, where this diamond slope went down this hill, that was to my eyes insurmountable. And as I stood and I looked down at where I'm supposed to go with the skis, I said, "Dear Jesus, today I will die."

And as I stood there that moment, my life flashed before me, young that I was, and then that memory was solidified in my brain as a metaphor for other things that I would encounter in my life that were far more challenging than that. You see, there are many times in our lives where we encounter these very difficult terrains, where life takes a nosedive and presents us with a cliff or a huge mountain that we are expected to either scale or descend. And we're standing there at that point, wondering how are we going to get down? We know where we are. We know where we have to be. And what's in between does not seem possible. And these valleys and these mountains can be things like illness. It can be things like deaths. It can be things like a marriage that suddenly is falling apart. It can be the loss of employment. It can be financial difficulties. It can be depression, anxiety, and other baggage that we carry so heavily on our shoulders that all of a sudden is there before us beckoning us to act. 

And it's very commonplace when we're presented with a challenge to immediately conclude that it is impossible for me to go from here to there. And so we become very comfortable being stuck. Because that's all we know is being stuck. If I listened to my impulse to remain stuck, I'd still be on that mountain today. 

And that's what happens in our life. We don't move. And we think that the misery that I'm experiencing, the anxiety that I experiencing is my normal, and there's nothing more to be had. Joy is not mine to have, and there is no hope. 

Dante's Inferno above the gates of hell:  "Abandon all hope you who enter here." 

So if we're that cliff and we're looking down or we're looking up and there is no hope, then, in essence, we stop living. The very life that we have within us is squelched. We don't see the possibilities of God. We don't see where we can be because in our minds peace will never be known again. 

Is that all we can do with life's hurdles? Do we just abandon ourselves to them, accept our fate, and wallow in our misery? 

We're in the season of advent. It's a season of hope, a season of love and new life. God promises to take those mountains and level them, to take the valleys and fill them so that they can be more traversable by us, and can be more easily negotiated. And as we listen to God saying that this is going to happen, the natural inclination that we have is, "How? Okay, God, you're promising something here. How does this happen? How do I get from here to there so that I can feel peace again? How does this darkness somehow go away?" And then we're left with that faith question. And we're gathered here today because we cling to a tradition, a truth, that in time God sent his Son, Jesus Christ incarnate to be with us as Emmanuel. And Emmanuel means God is with us, God with us.

And so the first truth that we can cling to, and the reason why we're all here today is because we believe that God is with us in Jesus Christ, first and foremost. So as we're standing at the top of that cliff, and as we're looking down at what we think we can not handle, what we think we can do, we are not alone. And not only is God with us, but we are with each other.

When I was at that top of that cliff that day, and I was looking down, I was not alone. There were other people standing by my side who were trying to figure out the same problem that I had and trying to find the same courage that I had to find. And that's how it is with life. No matter what it is that we're facing, no matter what it is that is challenging us, no matter what malady we find ourselves carrying, there is somebody else who has that same burden who has gone that same journey, who walks with me as a source of inspiration and example. They exist in numerous numbers in the communion of the saints. And so the gift that God gives us in the birth of his son is just one of the things that we have to cling to see us through life's challenges. 

God also gives us three other gifts, the most precious gifts that we can ever have as human beings, three. They will see us through anything that life can bring us. Any challenge that we can ever face, anything that can ever come our way. 

First gift: faith. Faith. 

Second gift: hope.

And the third gift: love. Love. 

You know, Helen Keller, what an inspiration her life was. She had a profound quote about all of this. And she said that life's hardship is one of its greatest blessings. The hardships of life, one of its greatest blessings. It makes us patient. It makes us sensitive. It makes us God-like. Patient. Sensitive. God-like. And it teaches us that though suffering exists in the world and the world is full of stuff, it is also full of overcoming it, of overcoming it. 

Yes, the world is filled with suffering, but it's also filled with overcoming it. You see, when we realize that we are not alone and we look within, what resources do we have to get from here to there? Well, if you're looking to our own, probably not a lot. Because if you listen to all of those voices, the fears, the anxieties, that little voice that says I can't do it, or you're not good enough, or you're not worthy enough, or you don't have the skills enough. When we listened to those voices, they will cripple us. If we go underneath and find the deeper truth, and realize that God gives us the gift of faith to put the pieces of life together in the most perfect puzzle, and then with that gift of faith, clinging to God as my helper and my guide, I can get through. And that there's always hope because there is never an end, never an end. Even when we're facing death, never an end. Even when we think we've lost everything, never an end. 

And then the most important gift that God gives us is love. You see, because when we're standing at the top of that cliff and we're wallowing in the misery of it all, who are we thinking most about? Ourselves. Our eyes are fixed, not on the possibilities to come, they're fixed on what I am currently encountering. And eyes fixed on ourselves, preoccupied only with our own worries and anxieties, are not eyes that can love. Because love propels us outward. Love is what convinces us and assures us that we can get to the bottom. That we can endure and that we can get through.

And so these gifts of faith, hope, and love, they're so important to negotiating life's path and to finding freedom, joy, and all the blessings that God can bring to us. 

For every door that seems to be closed, another one does open. It always does. And so we move on through this advent season, knowing that the birth that we're going to celebrate in a couple of weeks is the hope for all humankind.

God's salvation has dawned upon us. If we believe that, then we bring that with us. And when we face that cliff and we're looking down where the mountain and we're looking up, we go with confidence. Because we know we're not alone.

Father Mark Suslenko  is the pastor of SS. Isidore and Maria Parish in Glastonbury, Connecticut. Learn more about our parish community www.isidoreandmaria.org. And follow us on social media: Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Our music comes free of charge from Blue Dot Sessions in Fall River, Massachusetts. I’m Carol Vassar. Thanks for joining us.