Sunday, December 1, 2013

Year A First Sunday of Advent

Readings: Isa 2:1-5; Ps 122:1-9; Rom 13:11-14; Matt 24:37-44

“Whatever happened to time? It doesn’t come around anymore. The last time I saw time, it was walking out the door,” so goes an old Smothers Brothers song. The fact that many of you are asking yourselves, or those around you, “Who are the Smothers Brothers?” is proof enough of this thesis: times passes quickly. Moreover, it is an article of our Christian faith, that is, a dogma, that time will end with the glorious return of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

Whether it’s Christ’s return in glory, or the end of your mortal existence, your time is limited. This is exactly what St. Paul was fervently pointing out to the Roman Christians some 2,000 years ago. While it’s true that Christ has not yet triumphantly returned, it is true that all of those to whom the apostle originally addressed this missive, and even Paul himself, who met his death in Rome at the hands of an imperial executioner a short time after writing this, have all passed into eternity.

As regards the apostle, it seems that Paul thought he was going to Rome in chains in order to be acquitted by the emperor and to then to use Rome as a staging area for his planned mission to take the Gospel further west. But as he learned, God had other plans for him, better plans. In his second letter to the Christians in Corinth, the apostle wrote:
So we are always courageous, although we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yet we are courageous, and we would rather leave the body and go home to the Lord. Therefore, we aspire to please him, whether we are at home or away. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive recompense, according to what he did in the body, whether good or evil (2 Cor 5:6-10)
In our Gospel today, the Lord Himself takes up the same theme as St. Paul. Be prepared, He tells His listeners, “For you do not know on which day your Lord will come” (Matt 24:42).

In his Advent message for this year Bishop Wester asks each of us to take some precious time between now and our celebration of the Lord’s Nativity to pause and to reflect upon these questions:
What are the crooked ways on which I sometimes get lost, or I take a detour? What are the crooked ways that need to be made straight in my life? What are those mountains that are blocking my spiritual path? What are the obstacles to finding Christ more fully in my life? What are the obstacles to me leading a more faith-filled life, a more trusting life?
Let’s face it sisters and brothers, sometimes we need to get out of our own way. Our own hearts can be a bigger obstacle than any mountain. Hence, these Advent reflections are not about “taking control” of things, but about relinquishing control to the One who sets out to find the lost and put him on the right path, the One who can straighten your crooked paths, who can even level mountains, who wants to show you, precisely through the circumstances you face, that He is more than worthy of your complete and total trust. In response, at the beginning of this New Year of grace, resolve to avail yourself fully of the means He gives you to do just this: pray, fast, read Scripture, selflessly serve others, and celebrate the sacraments, especially Penance and Eucharist.

None of this said in order to make you afraid, to scare you into being good, which, in addition to being wholly undesirable, I do not believe to even be possible. It is said in order to enable you to live in a happy, fulfilling and satisfying manner. Indeed, as Scripture elsewhere teaches, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment, and so one who fears is not yet perfect in love. We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:18-19).

In the old Baltimore Catechism, the answer to the question, “Why did God make you?” was, “God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in heaven.” It’s hard to beat the simplicity of that answer, an answer that has not changed. To dress this up a bit, perhaps making it more fitting for us grown-ups, we can say, yet again, that we are to live sub specie aeternitatis, which means, “under the aspect of eternity.

In a kind of reversal, which is fitting for the endlessly fascinating season of Advent, the season during which we bring to the forefront our living the dialectical tension between the already and not yet, which we cheat ourselves by not observing fully, choosing instead to follow the crowd by rushing into Christmas, it is our Old Testament readings that set hope before us. Looking beyond the Lord’s first coming, the prophet Isaiah foretells the fulfillment of God’s plan for us. My dear friends in Christ, as we embark on this new year of grace, let’s start off by preparing ourselves to “go rejoicing to the house of the Lord” (Ps 122:1), which is to do nothing other than to live in the light of the very end for which you were so lovingly made.

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