HOMILY FOR THE SECOND SUNDAY OF ADVENT YEAR B.
HOMILY THEME: “IT IS WRITTEN IN THE PROPHET ISAIAH, ‘SEE, I AM SENDING MY MESSENGER AHEAD OF YOU, WHO WILL PREPARE YOUR WAY; THE VOICE OF ONE CRYING OUT IN THE WILDERNESS: “PREPARE THE WAY OF THE LORD, MAKE HIS PATH STRAIGHT”’” (Mark 1:2-3)
BY: Fr. Robert deLeon, CSC
“A judge in North Carolina made an unprecedented gesture of compassion when he decided to spend the night in jail with a veteran of the war in Afghanistan who was suffering from PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder]. Lou Olivera, a district court judge and Gulf War veteran, sentenced Green Beret Joe Serna to one night in jail for violating his probation and lying about a urine test. ‘I gave Joe a night in jail because he had to be held accountable,’ Olivera told CBS News. But for Serna, it would be more than just a night in jail. It would be a night of acute stress and painful flashbacks. ‘When I walked into the jail cell and they closed the door behind me, I started feeling this anxiety,’ he said. ‘It came back—a flashback.’
“Serna is a retired Army Sergeant First Class who did three tours in Afghanistan. He had a lot of harrowing experiences, but he says the worst came when a truck he and some fellow soldiers were riding in fell into a creek. ‘We were following the creek and the road gave way,’ he told CBS News. ‘And the vehicle went into the creek.’ Serna was the accident's only survivor. ‘I lost my whole crew,’ he said. ‘They were in the water with me. That tore me up. I couldn’t escape that truck. I stayed there until somebody saved me.’
“When he arrived back home for good, Serna came bearing scars—both physical and psychological. ‘Physically, I was taking care of myself. I didn’t think about the mental,’ he said, adding, ‘I was having issues, and would feed that with alcohol. I thought I was going down the right path. I didn’t know I was going the wrong way.’ The path he was on landed him in Judge Olivera’s courtroom for a number of alcohol- related charges.
“‘When Joe first came to my court, he was so tight,’ Olivera [said]. ‘His shoulders were so tense. Over time, you could see his shoulders relax.’ And while Olivera empathized with Serna’s situation, he knew he couldn’t let him get away with violating his probation. So he made a surprising compromise. After personally driving Serna to the jail, Olivera spoke to the jailer—who also happened to be a veteran—about his wish to spend the night with the man he’d just sentenced. Minutes later, Olivera was walking into Serna’s cell. The jailer brought in some mats so that the judge could sleep on the ground. Serna was taken aback. He asked the judge what he was doing. He said, ‘We’re in the foxhole together,’ Serna recalled. ‘I was at peace,’ the former soldier said. ‘When he came in, I knew everything was going to be OK.’
“The two veterans passed the time discussing their careers in the military and their families. ‘I’m a judge and I’ve seen evil, but I see the humanity in people,’ Olivera said. ‘Joe is a good man. Helping him helped me. I wanted him to know he isn’t alone.’”(“Opposing Views,” December 15, 2016)
In the day’s gospel passage we hear the opening lines of St. Mark’s Gospel: “It is written in the prophet Isaiah, ‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight”’” (Mark 1:2-3) Thus we are introduced to John the Baptist who, clothed in camel’s hair and living on locusts and wild honey, is a startling figure indeed. And more startling his message—prepare yourselves for someone greater who is come among you! Indeed, as we know, that someone greater is Jesus the Christ. The challenge for us these days of Advent is this: How can we, like John, announce to this weary world that someone greater—Jesus the Christ—has come among us to save us from ourselves? What actions and words might cause people to turn their heads in wonderment at our example?
North Carolina’s Judge Lou Olivera spent a night sleeping on the floor of former Green Beret Joe Serna’s jail cell. When Joe asked the judge what he was doing, the judge replied, “We’re in the foxhole together.”
Indeed we are, every one of us, in the foxhole together, all sharing the same frail, mortal humanity. As we look up above the dirt, though, a light becomes brighter, the approach of the one who will lift us up, pull us out, hold us close, bring us home.