2nd Sunday of Advent
Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish
Dec. 8, 2019
As you know, bishops are obliged periodically to pay an official visit to the Holy Father and to meet with those in charge of various departments in the Vatican. These are known as “ad Limina” visits (“limina” is the Latin word meaning “thresholds”) for during this special and grace-filled time we come to the “thresholds” of the Apostles Sts. Peter and Paul by offering Mass at their tombs, and, indeed, we come to the threshold of Peter’s successor, Pope Francis. Last Saturday, as I was departing for Rome, I learned the tragic news that Father Michael had departed from this world suddenly, and in my calculations and yours, far too soon. I was saddened that I wasn’t able to take part in Father Michael’s funeral Mass but, returning from Rome last evening, I wanted to be with you as soon as I could to offer you my heartfelt sympathy on the loss of your pastor and to pray with you for the happy repose of his soul.
Father Michael and I were ordained to the priesthood the same year, 1977. Although he studied for the priesthood at Theological College in Washington whereas I studied at Mt. St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, and although he was ordained for Baltimore whereas I was ordained for Washington, we nonetheless referred to each other as “classmates”, and, on occasion, celebrated our anniversaries of priestly ordination. In these past seven years of my service as Archbishop of Baltimore, I came to know what parishioners here at Immaculate Heart of Mary have known throughout the more than twenty years of his service as your pastor: Father Michael was a dedicated and hard-working priest with a good heart. Perhaps more than any of us really knew, he gave of himself to this parish family wholeheartedly. He was not flashy or showy nor did he call attention to himself. Rather, he simply lived his vocation in the very best way he knew and served this parish and the Archdiocese, day in and day out. I have no doubt that if the Lord had spared him until he was 80 or beyond, Father Carrion would have been one of those priests who never retires but who works until life and strength give out.
A Protracted Advent
For that reason, we commend Father Michael to the Lord— with sorrow in our hearts but also with great peace and trust. For not only was Father Michael a good servant of God’s People, he was also a friend and a disciple of Jesus, a person and a priest of faith. He did not pin his hopes on this world alone. Rather, he preached the Gospel, offered Holy Mass, heard Confessions, visited the sick, attended to the dying, cared for the poor and needy, and extended to us all his hospitality and love – all this and more – because he kept his eyes fixed on heaven. He lived his life and fulfilled his ministry with the enduring expectation that one day, when he would pass from this world, eternal life would dawn upon him. We might even say that Father Carrion lived each day as if it were Advent, a season of hope, a time of expectation, a time of longing for the Presence of the Lord.
Indeed, when Father Michael celebrated Holy Mass each day, he prayed that he and you, the people he served, would be free from sin and distress, as with you, he awaited in hope “the coming of [the] Savior, Jesus Christ.” He prayed as he lived and he lived as he prayed – with a longing for the face to face vision of the Lord whom he served so well, a longing that befits a disciple of the Lord and a priest of his Church. Even though death came to him suddenly, we can be confident that he was prepared for that moment when the Lord knocked at the door of his heart and took him home.
The Light Father Michael’s Death Sheds on Advent
It could also be said that, in his readiness to meet the Lord at the moment of death, Father Michael is sharing with us this Sunday the essential message of Advent, a message of vigilance, readiness, and persevering hope for the coming of the Lord, not only at Christmas but indeed at the end of time. His life and ministry teach us that Advent is a season when we are to listen with special attentiveness to the voice of the Lord who speaks to us in the depths of our hearts and to the sound of his coming as he knocks on the door of our hearts.
That is why, during Advent, we read from the Book of Isaiah, an Old Testament prophet who alerted the people of his day to the coming of the Messiah, the Savior, into the world. Now Isaiah speaks to you and me, alerting us to the Presence of Christ in our midst: the Christ who speaks to us through his Word, gives himself to us in the Eucharist; the Christ who invites us to be forgiven of our sins in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the Christ who sets our sites on that day when we will see him face to face; the Christ whose glory we hope to experience at his second coming at the end of time.
This is also why the Church presents the figure of John the Baptist to us in Advent. We meet him on the banks of the Jordan, administering a baptism of repentance, and his message is clear: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” – for, indeed, Christ was already present in the world. The kingdom of heaven is not a dream or a far off place, but rather, it is Christ himself. For to live with Jesus, in Jesus, and for Jesus in our present life is to prepare ourselves to share in the supreme joy of heaven when we shall see the Lord face to face in company with Mary and with all the angels and saints. So, both Isaiah and John the Baptist are calling us to be spiritually alert, as indeed Father Michael himself is now calling us to be – for we know neither the day nor the hour of our own passing.
And let’s be honest. We know how easy it is become so caught up in our own worries and concerns, or so caught up in all the Christmas shopping and parties and other activities that we push the birthday of the Savior and his return in glory into the background. Or, as more and more people seem to be doing in these days – they seem almost to lose their faith, their belief in God, their desire to worship him. There are many reasons for this, of course, some of them are cultural, some are tied to the scandals that have rocked the Church. But in the end, anyone who decides no longer to seek the face of God or who simply slides into a secular way of life with no room for God, must take responsibility for such decisions. Advent is a wake-up call to the gravity of that decision and to the abiding present the Presence of the Lord among us. Even in these difficult times, the kingdom of heaven is in our midst.
The Future of the Parish
Finally, the season of Advent is about our hopes for the future, and surely you are wondering about the future leadership of your parish. I will do my uttermost to provide you with good pastoral leadership. As you may know, while number of seminarians has risen to over 50, the priests who currently serve us are in short supply. Nonetheless, in the week ahead, I will do my best to identify, first an administrator, and then a pastor who will serve you with love, who will enable you to continue growing spiritually, who will help you strengthen and maintain your families, foster the school, and engage all of you in the life and mission of this community of faith.
In the meantime, I renew my prayerful sympathy to you and to this community, even as I ask God to grant you the grace of a blessed Advent and a joyous, hope-filled celebration of his Son’s birth at Christmas. And may God bless you and keep you always in his love.