Sunday, December 2, 2018

The Hunt - 1st Sunday of Advent (2018)

A couple weeks ago, we had our annual “Deer Hunters’ Mass” and it was a pretty good turnout.

This week, my brother and I drove through northern Missouri on our way to Iowa and I thought of all of our deer hunters at our parish. My brother Ed loves deer hunting and he was quick to point out that northern Missouri and beyond are great deer hunting lands. (A little town in Iowa—Albia—held the world record for the largest deer. My brother knew that).

I, however, know very little about deer hunting. (I prefer skeet shooting. After all, clay pigeons are always easier when they land)!

Anyway. I asked my brother what it was like to hunt deer and for the next several miles he told me all about it. The hunter wakes up early, very early in the morning. And it’s usually cold, because it’s November. And he sits in the trees or in what is called a deer blind for hours at a time.

At which point, I asked my brother:

“And what does he do?”

He just sits and watches. And waits.

“In the dark? And in the cold?”


“For how long?”

Probably for several hours. Depends.

“Wow, Ed. That sounds… exciting.

No, Anth, it’s amazing. Because then there’s this moment when you see the deer and you get really excited and your adrenaline starts going and your heart is thumping (because not everybody sees a deer)—and you gotta stay cool and breathe and slowly squeeze the trigger. And, if you do it right, when the rifle fires, it even surprises you a little bit.

(And he and I keep at this all through northern Missouri).

And I learned that hunters are really rather fanatical about their deer. They bring heaters and coolers (filled with, ahem, “beverages"). And some hunters who own some land spend months preparing the land by putting out food plots to attract the deer and the hunters watch trail cams to see where the deer are going so that they know where to track them.

Shoot, the hunters totally clear their calendars for those two weeks of hunting. And God have mercy on the dude that schedules his wedding to fall during deer hunting weekend!

So that’s deer hunting.

* * *

Now it would be pretty easy for me to draw the analogy that Advent is a lot like deer hunting. The homily would go something like: “When it comes to Advent, we gotta clear our calendars and really watch—watch like the deer hunters—so that you don’t miss Jesus.”

And that would be a fine homily—one that you probably have heard before.

But then I remembered a line from the Psalms:

            Like the deer that yearns for running streams, so my soul is yearning for you, my God.

And I realized something: in past years, I spent Advent like I was the deer hunter and Jesus was the deer.

But Jesus is not the deer!!!

I am! I’m the deer—and Jesus is the hunter.

And Advent—Advent is the season for me to become aware of that—that I’m being hunted.

(I know, I know, that sounds weird). So, let me explain. Let’s start with the Gospel. Listen to Jesus’ words. He says:


            “Be vigilant...”

            “People will die of fright…”

            “[Don’t let] that day catch you like a trap.”

Doesn’t that sound a like a hunt is on? Beware… you are being tracked…

This is a little disconcerting. But it’s the truth: we are being hunted. 

* * *

So what does this mean? And who, exactly, is hunting us? And how? And what happens if we are caught?

Let’s answer those questions.

First, who is hunting us? We are being hunted by Jesus and by the world.

When it comes to Jesus, He hunts us not so as to destroy us, but to give us life. He’s the Good Shepherd who goes in search for His sheep. This is a meaning of the word "hunt"-- it means to zealously search. (Like, in another place in the Gospel, we see a woman who hunts for her lost coin).

And for this hunt, He has prepared so much to attract us to Him. The food, the place of rest, the calendar, even. 

And as Jesus waits and watches and searches for us in this hunt, when He finds us He may—as some prayerful saints (called mystics) have pointed out—He may pierce us with a dart of His love. The dart is not a tranquilizer to put us to sleep, but is filled with His life and love. As His dart hits our soul, we breathe in new life and a new power to love. That's what happens in Jesus' hunt.

He comes not to destroy, but to save. (Only the demons are afraid of Him. They cry out: “What have you come for, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us?” That is very helpful to us: if we find ourselves afraid of Jesus, it’s likely we have been hanging out with the demons and not the saints).

* * *

The other hunter is the world.

And the world employs a different kind of hunt. Here's what I mean by that: when it comes to hunting an animal, yes, it is typical that you use a rifle; but there is another way: you can drive it. You send the dogs or you get a line of hunters and you drive the animal fearfully into a trap.

That is what Jesus is warning us about when He says (and I paraphrase):

Beware not to be driven by the world, lest you be caught in its trap.

How does the world drive us?

Jesus tells us: through the lusts of the flesh (carousing) and drunkenness and—here’s the kicker—the anxieties of life.

The anxieties. How often we are driven by anxieties and by fear! We worry: will I have enough money in the checkbook? … Will I be forever alone? … What will people think of me? … What if I am not taken care of? … What if my suffering keeps on going?  and so on. We are so easily driven by fear!

And the world cultivates that, too. Just look at the marketing strategies out there that say you are not beautiful enough; your car is not new enough; your health is not good enough; your life is not awesome enough. No wonder why we are hunting for happiness! We are being driven into a trap! Sheep among the wolves!

Where does it lead to?

I think of the deer as they run-- deer in headlights, afraid-- onto the highway....

The trap is our destruction.

* * *

What does this mean for Advent?

All we have to do is avoid being driven by the world—just avoid being driven into the trap. And let yourself be found my Jesus. Let Him lure you with His preparations and His dart of love.

How does this translate into your daily life?

Well, I remember a priest once saying: For the lay faithful (that’s you), fifteen minutes of quiet prayer in this busy world is worth as much as a monk who prays for five hours.

I believe that.

Just sit with Jesus for fifteen minutes each day. Just sit and let yourself be found.

Let Jesus tell you in those minutes: I will prepare your heart; I will heal your soul; I am calling you by name; you are my prize, my love, my child. Come, eat of my food. Come, be refreshed by my drink.

Let us be hit by this dart of His love and fall into His arms. He shall place us on His shoulders and carry us home.

That’s all we have to “do.”

This is Advent. Let the hunt begin.