Homily for Mass for 1st Sunday of Advent, Year A

28 Nov 2022

St Nikola Tavelic Church, St Johns Park, 27 November 2002

I suspect the groggy eyes of some of the congregation today have something to do with a certain football tournament taking place on the other side of the world. Some fanatics might have stayed up to watch Australia defeat Tunisia, and three more matches before coming to Mass! A few here might even have been interested in Croatia’s draw with Morocco last Wednesday or be up to see it go head-to-head with Canada at 3 a.m. tomorrow. The FIFA World Cup is of course the largest global sporting event, engrossing billions of people across the globe, even some who rarely watch sports. Many in Europe take days off work while those in Australia take hours off sleep, so they can jump out of their seats and yell at their TV sets in the face of spectacular goals or near misses, bad calls by referees or nail-biting finishes. Some fans are so fanatical they suffer serious consequences from neglecting to eat, sleep or wash during the tournament; others fear the effects of particular matches on international relations!

The World Cup is also an occasion for professional pundits, sports commentators, betting agencies and armchair experts to offer their best guess as to which nation will be crowned victor. Prediction methods include statistical analysis of past performance and recent form, scrutiny of player lists and coaching tactics, and attention to weather reports and even astrological charts. From 2008 to 2010 Paul the Psychic Octopus in Oberhausen Germany became a household name after correctly identifying the winners in the vast majority of World Cup matches by moving towards the food box in his tank with the preferred nation’s flag. Though he usually got it right, he incorrectly predicted Germany would beat Croatia,[1] and local fans turned against him when he predicted Spain would defeat Germany.[2]

All these predictive methods reflect the human yearning to be in the know and in control. We do all we can to foresee what lies ahead, even if it borders on the absurd such as turning to a psychic octopus, as this allows us to be prepared. As Winston Churchill once said: “He who fails to plan is planning to fail.”[3]

Much of our Christian life centres around preparation. In Lent we spend 40 days readying ourselves for Easter by examining our consciences, repenting, fasting, almsgiving, praying. Today as we begin Advent—or “Little Lent”—we also assume a posture of preparation, getting ourselves ready for God’s entry into history, eagerly anticipating the Word being made flesh and dwelling amongst us as the Babe of Bethlehem. Advent allows us some soul searching, some honest reflection upon our failings and the destruction sin renders in our character, relationships, lives, and some acknowledgment that we need a Saviour.

Our look towards Christmas has both past and future aspects. We look back gratefully to what God has done for us, becoming incarnate so He might teach and heal, suffer and die, rise and church us, all that we might live. We also look forward with eager longing to His return to judge the living and the dead (Mt 16:27; Jn 5:25-27; 14:3 Rom 2:16; 14:10-12; 2Cor 5:9-10; 1Pet 4:5; 2Pet 3:10; Rev 20:12).

But what of the present? Our Gospel reading today is quite telling. Christ makes it clear that He will indeed return but that it will be in God’s good time and when least expected. No statistical guru or unstatistical octopoid will be able to predict it, let alone resist or accelerate His return. And if there are no educated or irrational predictions to be made here, we must always be on guard (Mt 24:37-44; Rom 13:11-14).

For like a thief in the night and those oblivious at the time of Noah, Christ’s return will catch many off guard (Mt 25:43; cf. Mk 13:32; 1Thes 5:1-3; Rom 13:11-14; Rev 3:3). Some live as if world’s end—and even their own—is a long way off, and so pursue their own pleasure without regard for God’s commandments, merrily putting off thinking about the future. But for those attentive to God’s word and faithful to His promises, preparation transforms from the seasonal into the perpetual. Some say Christians are an Easter people, a Christmas people, a Pentecost people, or even a Lent people—all of which we are. But we are also an Advent people, always “preparing,” always readying ourselves for the end, and for our communion with God. Unlike a footballer working intensely during the season and slacking off thereafter, or working up to a major tournament every four years, the Christian life considers every moment to be a high-stakes opportunity to equip ourselves for God’s Kingdom. There is no off-season in Christianity: every moment of every day is a chance to testify to God’s love in Jesus Christ and to prepare ourselves for reception into his loving embrace at our deaths. And whatever our views of Rinaldo or some other football peacocks, ours is always a team sport, as we help each other make our way to heaven. Thus the Croatian Catholic chaplaincy and community here in Sydney provides pastoral care to those of Croatian background, revels in the Croatian spiritual and cultural heritage, food and folklore, saints and devotions, and provides sacramental preparation and all the sacraments, prayer groups, the Exodus90 and Magnify90 spiritual programmes for men and women, conducts youth ministry, retreats, funerals and more.

Which demonstrates that thankfully God doesn’t leave us to our own devices when it comes to preparation for the great tournament of life or for “the final” that is death and judgment. He gave us the training facility that is the Church; with the greatest coach in Jesus Christ; assistant coaches in our pastors; the greatest diet for spiritual athletes in the Holy Eucharist; and the best exercise routine in the spiritual exercises of Confession and the other sacraments and prayers. In His Holy Scriptures, we have the greatest book of tactics, guiding us toward lives of holiness; in His Holy Spirit, the greatest performance enhancing substance; and in His People, we have a crowd of supporters even more powerful than the Croatian fans, an entire communion of saints, led by our Blessed Mother, willing, inspiring and interceding for us. And so, Christians, live every moment as if it were your World Cup Final and ready yourself to receive the trophy when the referee blows the final whistle. Maranatha. Come Lord Jesus.

[1] https://www.thedailybeast.com/the-amazing-tale-of-paul-the-psychic-octopus-germanys-world-cup-soothsayer

[2] https://www.ratioscientiae.com/ratio-scientiae-blog/revisiting-the-exploits-of-the-oracle-of-oberhausen-paul-the-psychic-octopus

[3] https://senateshj.com/perspective/failing-to-plan-is-simply-planning-to-fail/#:~:text=It%20is%20also%20similar%20to,crisis%20management%20%E2%80%93%20planning%20and%20rehearsing.

Introduction to Mass for 1st Sunday of Advent Year ASt Nikola Tavelic Church, St Johns Park, 27 November 2002

Dragi Hrvati, welcome to St Nikola Tavelic Chuch, St Johns Park, for our Solemn Mass for the First Sunday of Advent and the beginning of the new liturgical year. I am delighted to be here with you all to begin our season of preparation for the coming of Our Saviour Jesus Christ at Christmas not only for the coming of the Infant King at Christmas but also for His Second Coming at the end of time and for our return to Him somewhere in between.

Concelebrating with me today is Fra Petar Horvat OFM. I acknowledge in attendance Hon. Betty Pavelich, Ambassador of Croatia to Australia, and Mr. Ivica Glasnović, Consul General.

To everyone here this morning, a very warm welcome to you all!