From the Desk of the Pastor — Homily for the first Sunday of Advent
Fr. David Ruchinski
I know that on some level many of us — myself included — would like to close our eyes and say, “Wake me up when this year is over.” 2020 has been just that kind of year. And with 2021 just 33 days away, it’s natural for us to be thinking about conclusions, wrapping things up, to focus our attention on the year’s end.
In that vein the Church gives us readings this Sunday that seem conducive to this line of thought. They speak to us of the Lord’s coming, the end of days, the parousia.
“Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, with the mountains quaking before you,” we read from the prophet Isaiah, “while you wrought awesome deeds we could not hope for, such as they had not heard of from of old.” Very dramatic! Very apocalyptic!
And Jesus too, in the gospel reading tells us, “Be watchful! Be alert!
You do not know when the time will come…whether in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning. May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping.”
In this sense, we are taught to have our minds fixed and focused on the so-called “eschaton”, the end times, the final judgement when Jesus comes definitively to separate the sheep from the goats. Remember that from last Sunday?
“Watch, therefore,” we are told, for “you do not know when the Lord is coming.”
All of this talk of the end times might make us a little passive. We might say, “Look, if the end really is near, what’s the point of trying to build up the kingdom here on earth now. If everything is just going to get swept away tomorrow or the next day or sometime next year, why bother to work on anything today? Why not just hunker down and wait for this whole second coming thing to come? Isn’t that what the Church prayed for at the end of the Book of Revelation: “Come, Lord Jesus. Come quickly. Come”? Isn’t that what some of us are praying for? Come, Lord Jesus. This world as we know it is corrupt and filled with darkness. Come, Lord Jesus, sweep it all away. Cast all those sinners into “the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”
But the scriptures that the Church gives us on this first Sunday of Advent are anything but an encouragement to sit back idly and wait for the second coming. Instead we are urged to take up our mission with new vigor, new intensity.
In part, that means a kind of interior preparation, a clearing the way as it were for Jesus to come and be the Lord of our hearts and our lives. This is the way of purification and holiness, which is always our Christian vocation and which we should embrace with a fresh urgency at this time of year, precisely because we do not know the day or the hour of His second coming. “What I say to you, I say to all,” Jesus tells us. “Watch!’”
But for us as Christian disciples, there is more to the message. We are not only called to pursue our own salvations, our own call to personal holiness. We are given a mission to participate in the work of salvation for the sake of others. Jesus compares it to “a man traveling abroad [who] leaves home and places his servants in charge, each with his own work, and orders the gatekeeper to be on the watch.” We Christians are particularly tasked with doing the work the Master has commanded us to do in His absence. And what is that work? We hear it at the end of the gospel when Jesus orders His disciples, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you and baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
There’s an expression in Italian that captures for me both the inward and outward movement of this spirit of Advent preparation. Salvando salvarci — in saving others we ourselves are saved. This, I think, is the proper way to understand the message of Jesus in the gospel. And notice how consistent it is with the message of the Old Testament prophet who writes, “Would that you might meet us doing right, that we were mindful of you in our ways!” Doing the will of God, not just reading or thinking about it, is the proper way to prepare for the second coming of the Son of God.
So what does that look like in practice this Advent season?
Well, I certainly think there is a need to commit ourselves to some extra form of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. These means of interior purification are not explicitly spelled out in the readings for the beginning of Advent like they are at the beginning of Lent, but they remain the tried and true method of drawing closer to God and clearing away undue attachments to the things of this world.
You might want to consider making an extra holy hour each week. As a parish we try to make that accessible by having exposition five days a week, Monday through Friday from 4:30 to 5:30. We also offer confessions five days a week at that same time. If that doesn’t work out for you, the church is open throughout the day for private prayer and there is even a new adoration chapel across the street in Hurley Hall that is accessible 24/7 (ask me afterward about the code to the keypad access on the chapel door). If you’re looking for an even more intimate space to pray, the chapel at the Fiat Center is also available 24/7, with the added bonus that the Eucharist is visible inside the tabernacle, and, by praying there you are also supporting the prolife cause by expanding the light of Christ to a place just three doors down from the abortion mill on 10th Ave.
I’d also like to point out that this coming Saturday we will have a little mini-retreat, a day of spiritual renewal available to all parishioners. Signs are posted around the parish office and the student center. The retreat is free, but we do ask that you register, as space is limited and we need to prepare a place for you if you’re wanting to participate.
In addition to these interior acts of prayer and mortification, I want to urge us all to take on some additional form of service during this advent season. I’ve been talking for a while now about the need for a greater spirit of volunteerism, a kind of stewardship of time and talent to help our parish live out our mission more effectively. We have a list of service projects around our parish and in our community that could use your help. Contact Cecile, the parish secretary, for help matching up your talent and availability to the projects to be done.
St. Paul gave the early Christians a word of encouragement in his First Letter of the Corinthians as they awaited the second coming of Jesus. May his words also encourage us in our time of preparation and watchfulness.
I give thanks to my God always on your account for the grace of God bestowed on you in Christ Jesus, that in him you were enriched in every way, with all discourse and all knowledge, as the testimony to Christ was confirmed among you, so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will keep you firm to the end, irreproachable on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.