[Saturday night, my parish will celebrate the Rite of Welcome for the new class of RCIA candidates.  This is the homily for that occasion.] 

Anyone who’s been coming to Our Lady Queen of Martyrs for a while knows the memorable liturgies we have here.

A little over a week ago, we had a beautiful concelebrated mass for Thanksgiving Day, with the full choir and about a dozen altar servers. In three weeks, we’ll have Christmas midnight mass, complete with the Hallelujah chorus. Easter brings us the Triduum, with the washing of the feet and the “Seven Last Words” and then the Easter vigil, with hundreds of flickering candles in a darkened church.

But nothing quite compares to what we have here tonight.

We have no choir this evening. No incense. No massive parade of altar servers carrying torches, no elaborate processions around the aisles of the church.

But this mass, celebrated every year around this time, is a favorite of mine — one of the most meaningful, and most moving.

It is a liturgy of spareness, and humility. And it began, so simply but eloquently, with a knock on the door.

That tells us all we need to know.

That knock is the announcement of something beginning. A sound of anticipation. Of desire. Of expectation.

The knock is a small sweet sound of hope: wanting to be let in from the dark and the cold, yearning to come in to the light and the warmth.

Christmas may be trumpets and bells and jubilant choruses of Hallelujahs.

But that knock?

That is the clear, hard sound of Advent.

Very often, at the beginning of Advent, that knock is heard in countless churches around the world. Candidates and catechumens seeking to join the Catholic Church knock on doors of wood, or bronze, or glass, or even bamboo. They knock on the entryways to small chapels and great cathedrals and plain churches on country roads. They wait for a reply. And then: into the darkness outside spills a beam of light as the door as opened, and they are welcomed inside.

And the Rite of Welcome begins.

We just heard Paul’s words to the Romans:

“Welcome one another, then, as Christ welcomed you, for the glory of God.”

And we do that tonight, with joy, and with gratitude. Our church is alive and growing. The faith is spreading. Christ’s great message of salvation is being embraced by more people.

But there is more to it, especially during this holy time of year. This evening we know that, in welcoming one another, we are also, in some way, preparing to welcome Christ himself.

“Prepare the way of the Lord,” a voice cries out in today’s gospel.

And so we open our hearts, and straighten the crooked paths, and wait for him.

“Prepare the way of the Lord.”

And we know it is calling out not just to those who lived thousands of years ago, in villages around Galilee, but to all of us, here and now, in Rego Park or Forest Hills or Kew Gardens.

“Prepare the way of the Lord.”

How can we each prepare for him? How can we make straight the paths for Christ? How can we make it easier for him to reach us? What obstacles are in the way?

And: what do we need to do to move them?

Advent is the time for asking those questions, praying over them, working on them. It’s not a time of penitence as much as it is a time of preparation – getting ready for the return of the King.

“Prepare the way of the Lord.”

He is coming.

The Rite of Welcome serves to remind us of another beautiful, haunting aspect of this season. Like the men and women we just welcomed into our church tonight, Christ also comes to us with a yearning and a hope.
He comes to the door of our hearts, and quietly, persistently, knocks.

That is the sound of Advent.

That plain, simple sound is the sound of salvation calling, the sound of history beckoning, the sound of God seeking to enter into our lives and dwell with us — to be one of us, in all our weakness and resilience, in all our pain and joy, in the dark coldness of December and the sweltering heat of August. Through everything, in everything.

He wants to join us. To bear with us. To abide with us. To make his home in our hearts.

Carry that with you this Advent, across these next three weeks.

Emmanuel is knocking.

What will be our answer?

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