What matters to you? I mean, what really matters? Answering this question honestly is different from giving what you think is the “right” answer at Church. Probably the least honest way to answer this question is with words.
Philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein made a lot of the distinction between saying and showing. Showing is almost always more convincing than saying because it is more straightforward than mere words. In his earliest work, Wittgenstein went as far as to insist: “What can be shown cannot be said.”1
This same distinction is made in the New Testament. “Indeed someone may say,” we read in the Letter of Saint James, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Demonstrate your faith to me without works,” the passage continues, “and I will demonstrate my faith to you from my works.”2
Therefore, you demonstrate what matters to you far more clearly and honestly by how you spend time and your resources than anything you say.
Maybe instead of asking what matters, as Christians we should ask “Who matters?” Isn’t “mattering” a matter of love or lack of it? In the sacarment of penance, when saying the Act of Contrition, which comes between the confession of our sins and receiving absolution, don’t we acknowledge this when we say to God- “I have sinned against you whom I should love above all things?”
What is sin except a lack of love for God and/or neighbor? This is true for both sins of commission (the things we do wrong, despite knowing they’re wrong) and sins of omission (the good things we should’ve and could’ve done but didn’t).
Our readings for this First Sunday of Advent pick up where our readings for last week’s Solemnity of Christ the King left off. At the beginning of this Year of Grace, we are called to repent. Acknowledging one’s sins and expressing sorrow for them is only the beginning of repentance.
True repentance means changing your mind and your heart, reorienting your life, walking in a different direction, taking up the cross and following Jesus Christ, changing what needs to be changed, with God’s help. To repent means to live in a new way. The way of God’s kingdom.
The advent of Advent also lets us know that time is of the essence. Both Jesus and Paul in our readings point this out: repent before time runs out. No one knows what the future holds. Not only does nobody know when Christ will “return to judge the living and dead,” nobody knows the hour of her/his own death.
Now is “the hour now for you to awake from sleep,” Paul insists in our reading from his Letter to the Romans.3 "For our salvation," the apostle continues, "is nearer now than when we first believed.”4
These remain timely words nearly two thousand years later. Again, you don’t and you can’t know what the future holds. For those who wait in joyful hope for the return of Jesus Christ, it’s always the end of the world until the end of the world.
This is not as dire as it might sound. In fact, it is hopeful. It is hopeful because we believe that Christ has conquered death. Because he’s conquered death, by virtue of our baptism, so have we.
After the pattern of Jesus, to live forever, you must first die. Elsewhere in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus says that those who lose their life for his sake will find it.5 In this same passage, the Lord goes on to ask, “What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?”6 He then points to when he “will come with his angels in his Father’s glory," when "he will repay everyone according to his conduct.”7
I remember listening to a radio program years ago. A segment of the program was an interview with a journalist who, at the end of his career, went back and re-interviewed the happiest people he had encountered in his work. In sharing a few bits of advice he received about living a happy life from these people, he recalled an elderly German man. This man shared that one key to his own happiness was spending a few minutes, no more, each day thinking about his own death.
This is an ancient Stoic practice adopted by Christians in the early Church. This practice is known as Memento mori. Memento mori is Latin for “remember death.” Or, if that doesn’t work, always bear in mind: Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again.
While a relatively short liturgical season, Advent has two distinct movements. On the Third Sunday, it pivots from anticipating Christ’s glorious return to looking forward to our celebration of his Nativity.
My dear friends, Advent is a beautiful season. Its spiritual purpose is to prepare us for our celebration of the Lord’s Nativity at Christmas. You keep Christ in Christmas by observing Advent. Christmas is its own season, which doesn’t begin until sundown on Christmas Eve and lasts until the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, which, this year, we will observe on Monday, 9 January.
So, in a mad dash towards whatever it is Christmas has become, don't neglect Advent. Use this season as a time to ponder the question What/Who really matters? And then to ask yourself: What do I need to change?
1 Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, 4.1212.↩
2 James 2:18.↩
3 Romans 13:11.↩
4 Romans 13:11.↩
5 Matthew 16:25.↩
6 Matthew 16:26.↩
7 Matthew 16:27.↩