Sunday, November 30, 2008

To ‘Watch,’ You Must Focus—On The Right Things

(First Sunday of Advent (B): This homily was given on November 30, 2008 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read Mark 13: 33-37.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: First Sunday of Advent 2008]

To ‘watch,’ you must focus—on the right things.

Jesus says to us in this Gospel text from Mark 13, “Be watchful!” And he repeats that message twice with the simple command to “watch.”

He’s speaking here, of course, about his second coming: something that will occur for each of us either at the end of time or at the end of our earthly life—whichever comes first!

To watch means to be ready; to watch means to be prepared. But in order to be prepared we need to be focused: we need to be focused on the right things; we need to be focused on what really matters.

This is an idea that’s found in our Scripture readings on the First Sunday of Advent every year, as we begin what should be a season of spiritual preparation for Christmas. In fact, in the thinking of the Church, the 4 weeks of preparation for the celebration of the Lord’s coming at Christmas is supposed to be a sign of our lifelong preparation for meeting the Lord face to face when he comes to us at the end of our lives (or at the end of time).

One is supposed to parallel the other. The way we are preparing to meet Jesus at Christmas is supposed to parallel the way we are preparing throughout our lives to meet the Lord at the end.

Now does that thought scare you? I hope not; but it might, given how many Christians prepare for Christmas every year.

Let me put it to you this way: If being watchful means being focused on the right things, and if our focus during Advent is supposed to be a sign of how focused we are on the right things during the rest of the year, then a lot of Christians are in big trouble!

Because at this time of the year all too many followers of Jesus are focused on all the wrong things! They should be ‘watching’ by focusing on their relationship with God and on works of charity: making extra time for prayer, reaching out to the needy, spending some quality time with the people they love, repenting of their sins (and getting to Confession if they’re Catholic).

But let’s be honest about it, for a lot of Christians those are the last things on their minds in the month of December!

You know, if there’s one blessing to this economic crisis we’re in, it’s that many Americans will be challenged—and perhaps even motivated—to focus on the right things during the next 4 weeks. They won’t have as much money to spend, and so they’ll actually have some time—and hopefully some desire—to work at improving their spiritual lives.

Yes, God can bring good even out of this bad economy!

Apropos of all this, last year, in mid-December, someone sent me a little reflection, entitled, “A Christmas Version of 1 Corinthians 13.” (It's really an Advent version of the passage.) 1 Corinthians 13, of course, is the famous biblical passage on love that you hear at so many weddings. Let me read it to you now, since it ties in perfectly with the message of this homily:

If I decorate my house perfectly with bright red bows, strands of twinkling lights and shiny Christmas balls, but do not show love to others, I’m just another decorator.

If I slave away in the kitchen, baking dozens of Christmas cookies, preparing gourmet meals, and arranging a beautifully adorned table at mealtime, but do not show love to others, I’m just another cook.

If I buy all the right gifts, and wrap them with the most beautiful wrapping paper I can find, but do not show love to others, it profits me nothing.

If I trim the tree with garland and ornaments, and attend a myriad of holiday parties, but do not focus on the Lord Jesus Christ, I have missed the point of the season.

Love stops the cooking to hug a child.

Love sets aside the decorating to kiss one’s spouse.

Love is kind, though harried and weary.

Love does not envy another’s home with its coordinated Christmas china and table linens, but is content with what it has.

Love does not yell at the children to get out of the way, but is thankful they are there to be in the way.

Love does not give only to those who are able to give in return, but rejoices in giving to those who cannot.

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never fails.

Video games will break, pearl necklaces will be lost, fancy golf clubs will rust;

But the gift of true love, will never pass away.

To ‘watch,’ you must focus—on the right things.

May the words of that little reflection inspire us to do that this Advent, and in every season of the year.