Paul Knitter’s Homily, December 6, 2015

Holy Wisdom Monastery Homilies 1 Comment

Second Sunday of Advent
Dec. 6, 2015 – Holy Wisdom Monastery
Readings: Malachi 3: 1-4; Philippians 1: 3-11; Luke 3:1-6
Paul Knitter


  1. If I had to give a title to the reflections I’m sharing with you this morning, I think it would be: “What are we waiting for?!”
    • I don’t know if it’s the case for many of you, but that’s a question I can’t avoid as I heard the readings for last week and as I pondered the readings I have to preach on today. They’re typical Advent texts, full of promise and hope:
      • Malachi: “the Holy One whom you seek will suddenly come to the temple….the Holy One will refine like a refiner’s fire ….”
      • Paul tells the Philippians that they should get ready for the “day of Christ,” which is shorthand for the final coming of Jesus.
      • Luke after locating us very precisely at a definite place and time in history – he lists six different well-known political figures – then assures us that “every valley shall be filled, every mountain and even hill made low, the crooked shall be made straight, the rough ways made smooth, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”
    • I can’t repress the somewhat impolite question: When?  Just when will some of these promises start to take shape? At least I’d like to see a few mountains of poverty really removed.  Or some of our crooked problems of racism really straightened out. When will all flesh and our threatened planet see the salvation of God? – When are things really going to be – or start to be – different!
    • That question recently really hit me in the stomach: Last month, Cathy and I were in El Salvador for the annual Board meeting of CRISPAZ (Christians for Peace in El Salvador).  On the last day there –yesterday, one month ago to be exact – we were sitting in the crypt of the basilica in San Salvador right next to the tomb of Archbishop Romero, praying and then talking with two dear and long-time friends, 94-year old Fr. Peter Hinde and 85 year-old Sister Betty Campbell, who have spent over half a century working among the poor of Latin America (now living amid the violence of Ciudad Juarez).
      • At one moment, as I looked at the tomb we have so often visited, I blurted out the question, “Did his death really make any difference? Or the deaths of thousands of others during the struggle of the civil war during the 70s and 80s? Did they make any difference? Nothing seems to have changed. Sure the war is over. But there is just as much poverty. And because of the poverty there are the gangs and their horrible violence that causes more daily deaths now than there were during the war? We’re still waiting for something to really change. When will it?
      • There was a rather long, somewhat uncomfortable pause, and then Betty, simply and with somewhat of the same chiding tone that I remember from the nuns in grammar school, looked me in the eye and said: “But there are so many people who are doing good, carrying on the struggle, because of the memory and example of Monsignor Romero.”
      • She brought my question about the future right back into the present.
        • And in that, she helps me understand today’s readings and what Advent has to tell us.


  1. What Betty understood is what Jesus himself, and the early community of Jesus-followers, came to understand.
    • James Carroll, in his wonderful book Christ Actually, tells us: “Disappointed expectation is the single largest experience that shaped the religious imagination of [the early community of] Jesus people—and it did so not once, or twice, but constantly, across the decades after Jesus died…” (111)
      • Every time that Jesus and then his followers thought they knew when things would be resolved in the future, they were disappointed – and in their disappointment, they were called back to the present moment.
      • Jesus started his career by studying with John the Baptist, who was preaching an imminent, apocalyptic appearance of God to resolve the sufferings of his people, especially under the Romans. Well, as Dominic Crosson points out: “Herod Antipas moved swiftly to execute John, there was no apocalyptic consummation, and Jesus, finding his own voice, began to speak of God not as imminent apocalypse but as already present, as present healing.” (in Carroll, 319)
      • And after Jesus’ unexpected death, the early Christians, especially Paul as in today’s reading, were expecting Jesus to return in glory for the final consummation within their generation. But when he did not come, they gradually came to realize, that he was still present in their midst, that they were to be his mystical body. His future coming was already taking place right now, in them, at the Eucharistic table, in their efforts to love each other and their neighbors.
  2. This, Scripture scholars tell us, is how Jesus’ came to understand the Reign of God: as an already/not-yet presence of God – both still to come but present right now.
    • This calls us to a very different understanding of time, and of what the second coming of Jesus means: That Jesus will “come again” in the future is a reality that we have to find right now, in our present lives, in this moment. The future is not out there, on a horizontal line; rather, the future is vertically the depth of the present,  that which is already here but has to be discovered, trusted, and realized.
      • As Roberta Felker beautifully put it last Sunday in her homily: “Every moment is a second coming.  The place is here. The miracle is now.”
    • What does that mean? It means what Betty told me: that the God that was present for us Christians in Jesus– and in Archbishop Romero – is available to us right now. What we’re to anticipate is what we’re now given.
      • That means that no matter what happens, no matter how messed up our lives or the world is, there is a Presence, there is a Power, there is a Spirit available to us that will enable us to carry on in the task of loving ourselves and each other and so working for a world of peace and justice. We have just to trust, and be aware.
    • Whether and how this is going to lead to a better future is not ours to know. What is ours to do – and what the living presence of the Christ-Spirit enables us to do –is to carry on in our efforts to love, to be sources of peace, to call for justice, where and when we can. 
      • The best, maybe the only way, to bring about a better future is to forget about it, or better, not worry about it– and be fully present and responsive to the moment.


  • And this is where my Buddhist practice calls me, I think, to an even deeper understanding and living of Jesus’ message of God’s Kingdom given in this present moment.
  • Tibetan Buddhism has a series of teachings or slogans, called lojongs, all 59 of which are intended to put us in contact with our hearts’ innate compassion for ourselves and all beings.
  • The one that is most pertinent to my question at Romero’s tomb and to my questions about our Advent readings is a bit startling: “Abandon all hope of fruition.” It’s a call to stop pinning the value of our actions on their future results; it’s a call to stop trying to change things for the better so that we can get in touch with the goodness that is given to us in the present.  Whatever fruition may come in the future, the lojong implies, will result from being fully present to, and trusting of,  what is given to us in the present moment.
  • Pema Chödrön, one of the better known teachers of Tibetan Buddhism, puts the meaning of this lojong this way: “One of the most powerful teachings of the Buddhist tradition is that as long as you are wishing for things to change, they never will. As long as you’re wanting yourself to get better, you won’t. As long as you have an orientation toward the future, you can never just relax into what you already have or already are.” (Start Where You Are, 96)
  • That’s pretty jolting. But it asks me  if I have missed the similar jolt that Jesus wanted to give me when he said: “the Reign of God is not coming with things that can be observed (in the future) over there or over here … For, in fact, the Reign of God is among you.” (Luke 17:20-21)  Right here. All you have to do is be mindful, and trust.  And then do what you can, where you are.


To return to El Salvador, I do think that that is just how Romero was present and acted amid the horrible US supported military violence and pervasive poverty of El Salvador.

  • So returning to more Christian language and symbols,  I close with excerpts from a well-known prayer that Bishop Ken Untener (of Saginaw, MI) attributed to Romero:

The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision.

We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent
enterprise that is God’s work. Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of
saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us [and out understanding]….

We cannot do [or know] everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.

This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.

It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master
builder and the worker.

We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.

We are prophets of a future not our own.


Aware that the Christ to come is the Christ among us this morning, we pray:

  • For all those who, in different ways, are struggling to bring about greater peace, compassion, and justice in our suffering world, that their faith and their friendships may sustain them, we pray:
  • For all the victims of violence in these recent weeks– in Paris, in Beirut, in Nigeria, in San Bernadino – that their families and friends may be consoled, and that their deaths may strengthen the resolve of those who struggle for peace, we pray :
  • For the perpetrators of violence – especially for followers of ISIS – that their hatred may not create more hatred, and that they may find teachers and leaders who can enable them to understand Islam’s message of peace, we pray:
  • For our fellow-citizens who are Muslims, that in this days of mounting Islamophobia, they may find strength in their faith and support from their fellow-citizens, we pray.

For what else might we pray?

Now, all together, let us mention quietly the names of those we wish to remember in prayer:

We make these prayers, aware that it is the living Christ who prays with us and in us.




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