Pastoral Sharings: "First Sunday of Advent"

WeeklyMessage Homily from Father Alex McAllister SDS

First Sunday of Advent

Posted for November 30, 2014

I know that there will be no danger of anyone falling 
asleep during the sermon today since in the Gospel Christ 
has warned us not once but three times to stay awake!

And staying awake is what being a Christian is all about. Alertness, watching and waiting these are the themes of Advent, but they are actually also the programme for a truly Christian life.

Don’t take this in a literal sense because Jesus is here using spiritual language. Don’t think he means that Christians should stay up all night and never go to bed! If we did that we would soon be a sorry lot and wouldn’t be fit for anything, let alone for living the Christian life.

No, Christ means that we ought to stay awake spiritually. He means that we should be constantly on the alert, on the ‘qui vive’, vigilant and watchful.

But for what or who do we wait? For Christ, of course! As he says, when the Master comes he must not find you asleep. We wait for Christ and specifically we wait for his second coming.

We are in that period between Pentecost and the Second Coming; it is an era of expectation, a time of hope, a period of longing for Christ to come and bring his Kingdom to its complete fulfilment.

Actually the parable in this chosen text is highly relevant because it describes very precisely this period between Pentecost and the Second Coming. The master has physically left us, he has put his servants in charge, each with his own task, and he has told the doorkeeper to stay awake to be on the alert for his return.

We are both the servants, each with our own task, and the doorkeeper on the alert for Christ’s return. We work and we watch. We strive to make the Kingdom a reality and we are constantly looking out for the coming of Christ.

Of course, we are most of us much better at working than at watching.

Working is something we all know about, we do it every day. Maybe we went through a phase of laziness in our lives, perhaps in our early teens, but as soon as we realised how much there was to be gained in this life by work we found a new focus.

A lot of us are very good at working; maybe some of us are too good, and we work to the exclusion of most other things.

But working for the Kingdom is not the same as any other work. It is actually quite subtle and it is not a question of just putting more energy in. It is about making connections between people, it is about saying the right thing at the right time, it is about being in the right place, it’s about touching the lives of others, it’s about reaching out, it’s about loving, caring and healing.

Working for the Kingdom involves going the extra mile, it means thinking about the needs of others, it means biting one’s tongue, it means teaching, praising and forgiving.

All of this really is work—believe me! But it is quite specific and involves a great deal of thought and care.

Now if you think that working for the Kingdom is hard then watching is much, much more difficult; it involves different skills such as patience, perseverance and alertness. But also skills that we haven’t been forced by life to cultivate such as being still, listening to the voice within, being sensitive to the action of God in the world and so on.

What we are watching and waiting for is Christ’s coming. But it is in the very nature of Christ to be always coming, always arriving in lots of different ways and in many varied guises.

The two comings we think most about in the liturgical season of Advent are firstly Christ’s coming into the world in human form on the first Christmas Day—the Incarnation—and secondly his coming at the end of time—the Second Coming, the Last Day.

In this season of Advent we feel very much at one with those who waited for the coming of the Messiah. We are only waiting for five weeks, they waited their whole lives long and still the vast majority did not see his arrival.

In fact, when he finally did come only a very few recognised him, and not the ones you would expect —insignificant people like shepherds, wise men from the East, Elizabeth, Simeon and Anna; we know from the scriptures that they recognised him but not many others did so.

It is a firm doctrine of our faith that Christ will come in glory at the end of time; that’s what we celebrated last week on the Feast of Christ the King. We hope for and long for Christ’s coming on the Last Day to bring all things under his dominion.

We don’t know when that Day will be; it could be tomorrow or it could be many centuries in the waiting; the one thing we do know is that it certainly will come.

These are the two definitive comings of Christ but he is constantly making other kinds of appearances in our world and in our lives. For those with eyes to see he comes walking by daily. For those who recognise him Christ is always around.

And this is what watching is about. It is developing some very particular skills so that we are enabled to recognise him in his many guises. We need to train ourselves to be alert to his disguises, to notice the signs of his arrival, to be aware of his presence.

And most of all perhaps we need to be able to enjoy his coming, especially his coming to us in prayer.

A lot of the people who live around us don’t understand what we are doing when we pay special attention to someone who cannot offer us anything in return. They find our going out of the way to help others quite strange. They can’t comprehend our generosity.

But for us there is nothing to understand, it comes naturally—we are serving Christ in our midst.

Another thing a lot of people can’t understand is the time we spend in prayer. As far as they are concerned this is lost time, there are other much better things they think they could do with their time. But for us this is time spent with the best friend we’ve got.

And even if we sit there and try to pray but feel nothing that’s OK. We think of it as we would think about waiting for our oldest friend to come and visit us. We are content to wait, to sit quietly and to enjoy the memories of previous visits and looking forward to the joy of his arrival.

Working and watching—these are the things a Christian does. These are the themes of Advent; these constitute the programme of our life.

Digest of Articles from Catholics Blogs and Websites
November 30, 2014

First Sunday of Advent, Year B—November 30, 2014
The Gospel reading sounds the call of Advent: Be watchful! How?

Gospel (Read Mk 13:33-37)

Our very first Gospel in this new season of Advent puts into our ears Jesus’ own words to prepare us for it: “Jesus said to His disciples, ‘Be watchful! Be alert!’” He then tells them how to do this. He uses the example of a household in which “the lord of the house” has gone away and left his servants “in charge, each with his own work.” The servants are warned against being asleep on the job. Since they “do not know when the lord of the house is coming,” they must not make the mistake of thinking they can be lazy or indifferent toward their work. The best way for them to “watch” for their master is to be conscientious and active in the work he has given them to do.

First Sunday of Advent
Mark 13: 33–37

Gospel Summary

In this gospel passage Jesus illustrates the mystery of his future, final coming in power and glory with a simple parable. He says to his disciples: “Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come.” He compares his final coming to a man traveling abroad who had placed his servants in charge of his house. The servants must do the work assigned to them, and the gatekeeper must be on constant watch awaiting the return of the master of the house. The parable, with its accompanying admonition to work and watch for the Lord’s final advent, completes Chapter 13 of Mark’s gospel—Jesus’ last teaching before his passion.

First Sunday of Advent: Waiting for Him to Come and Heal Us |
The first reading for this, the First Sunday of Advent, has many verses that are key to our understanding of Advent.  The prophet calls upon God to come down from heaven.  He says that when the Lord does come he will come in power and might.  He is the Awesome God.  No ear has heard or eye has seen the might of God.  We are the clay, he is the potter.  We are the work of his hands.  Six hundred years after the first reading, St. Paul returned to this passage recognizing that the  prophet was speaking about Jesus Christ and the power and might of the Kingdom of God, and our role in that Kingdom.

Do People See Jesus When They Look At You?
“As I have loved you, so you also should love one another” (John 13:34).

In John 14:15, Jesus tells his apostles, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”  In this passage, Jesus is preparing His Apostles for His departure and the coming of the Holy Spirit. After three long years with them, these are among His final words of instruction.  These words must be important.  Again, He tells them that if they love Him, they will keep His commandments.  Earlier in His public ministry Jesus told a scribe that the greatest of the commandments is that we are to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and that the second is that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves.

Heaven is Seeing God
We are to know, love and serve God in this life and to share in the paradise of his Beatific Vision in the next life (CCC 1721). We know God only indistinctly in this life (1 Cor 13:12).

The fruition of sanctifying grace is the Beatific Vision, which is the theological term for seeing God face to face, i.e. as he knows and loves within the Trinity. In this mortal life no one can see God and live (Ex 33:20). Once enjoying the ecstasy of seeing God, no one could cease to possess the Beatific Vision, which is heaven, and then return to living this mortal life.

7 Lessons from Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament
Of all the gifts that God has given his Church, the greatest is without question the Blessed Sacrament, for it is nothing less than the body, blood, soul and Divinity of Jesus himself. In the Eucharistic host, our Divine Savior dwells among men in his fullness. He is truly God with us—what could be greater than this?

If the Blessed Sacrament is Jesus himself, and holiness is found in imitating Christ, then the Blessed Sacrament is a school of holiness. Today, I want to spend a few moments reflecting on the characteristics of Jesus in the Eucharist and what his presence can teach us about both holiness and masculinity.

What the Our Father Teaches Us About Prayer
Some two thousand years after institution, the Our Father still has much to teach us about prayer.

Below are some lessons that various saints and doctors of the Church have gleaned from the first Christian prayer over the centuries.

When We Struggle in Our Prayer Life
One of the biggest obstacles for me in the early days of my faith journey was the lack of a prayer life. I knew I needed to pray, but I couldn’t ever remember sincerely praying about anything. I was struggling with the typical male challenge of asking for help, especially asking God for help! I rationalized this by thinking, “Who am I to bother Him with my petty problems?”

How I Pray: Jimmy Akin
Every Monday in How I Pray, I ask various Catholics about their prayer routines, their prayer lives, and their experience of prayer. This week I’m joined by the great apologist Jimmy Akin, whose clear and irenic explanations of Catholic teaching are always a welcome oasis in the often-fractious world of online Catholicism.

Having a True Fear of the Lord
The worthy wife and mother depicted in the last chapter of the book of Proverbs in Sunday’s First Reading leaves us wondering how she could be constant in doing good for all around her. Her husband confidently “entrusts his heart to her” and she “brings him good, and not evil, all the days of her life.” She labors constantly and “works with loving hands” not for selfish reasons but she does this so as to benefit others: “She reaches out her hands to the poor, and extends her arms to the needy.”

May You Sleep the Sleep of the Just: A Short Meditation on the Burden that Sin Brings
There’s an old expression, seldom used today although I remember the old folks used it sometimes when I was young, “May you sleep the sleep of the just.” When my Great Aunt Polly used it, she meant simply, “May you sleep well.” But more richly and historically, the phrase speaks to a serenity that comes from having a quiet conscience, a conscience that is untroubled by the burden of unconfessed and unrepentant sin. A serene and clean conscience is an untroubled conscience, and thus we can sleep well and deeply.

Satan at His Most Subtle: A Reflection on the Temptations and Traps of the Pious
What is temptation? Temptation is the work of Satan to drag you to Hell. And Satan can read you like a book and play you like piano. Do not exaggerate his power, but do not underestimate it either.

Some of his subtlest work is done in the area of religious observance. There, he can cloak himself quite easily in the lamb’s clothing of piety, but, wolf that he really is, distort it, either through excess or defect, thereby destroying you with what is good. Beware what some spiritual writers call the “traps of the pious.” Consider some examples:

St. Thomas on the Psychology of Advent
The phrase lumen fidei, the light of faith, is becoming a more familiar part of our lexicon. The phrase plays a key part in the psychology of St. Thomas. As the season of Advent is now approaching, I decided to meditate, with St. Thomas Aquinas as my guide, on how it is that a baby in a manger, or a personal act of selfless love, could draw us intellectually into the mysteries of faith.

Preparing Our Hearts for Christ
You would have to live in a cave to not know that Christmas is coming. The day after Thanksgiving, almost everyone is preparing. Shopping for presents, putting up trees, sending cards, making cookies, and hosting parties. In some churches and Christian homes the Advent Wreath will come out, maybe a Jesse Tree, and the Christmas trees and ornaments may be added weekly to slowly emphasize the Light of Christ coming into the world. The Season of Advent is a time of busy preparation and one that even the secular world will not let us forget.

Catholic Identity & Our Moral Life: “The Two Ways”
Our baptism gives us an identity that is thicker than blood: we are now adopted sons and daughters of God the Father and brothers and sisters of our Lord Jesus Christ – members of God’s divine family and members of His Body, the Catholic Church, the new covenantal community.

Is There a List of Mortal Sins?
One of the strengths and weaknesses of the internet age is that people write to strangers with personal problems which are often complex, but there is no context or background.

So I’ll get an email out of the blue from someone I don’t know asking “What is the meaning of life? Why are we here? Why does God judge us and sent us to hell when we never even asked to be born in the first place?”

The person doesn’t tell me how old they are, whether they are male or female, where they live, if they are Catholic or whether they like hot dogs…..nothing.

Twelve Surprises About Catholicism and Evangelicalism
Over the past dozen years I’ve had the amazing and accidental opportunity to do something few Christians get to do: dive deeply into both the Catholic and Evangelical worlds.  That experience has been enlightening, confusing, encouraging, frustrating and inspiring all at once.  As a result, I’ve arrived at 12 realizations that surprised me about each side of Christianity, and the overlap between them.

Joy in the Midst of Grief
As the holidays approach, most of us are engulfed with images of happy shoppers adorning their kitchens with comfort food and their living rooms with festive decorations; their smiles offer a false impression to many that the holidays are always occasions that conjure a sense of warmth and joy.  For some of us, the holidays exacerbate our pain and the glaring void of loss and loneliness that we attempt to mask for the sake of social graces and propriety.

The Catholic Option: “All of the Above”
Samuel Gregg recently recapped an ongoing debate among conservatives and Catholics in America concerning how best to evangelize the contemporary culture.

Gregg (whose work I admire) contends that the so-called “Benedict Option,” i.e., imitating St. Benedict by withdrawing from a perverted society to preserve civilization, “isn’t open to … American conservatives … who take natural law seriously.” Gregg’s three reasons are: (1) the universally accessible nature of the natural law; (2) the poverty of alternative moral theories today; and (3) the American Founding, which was based on virtue theory and natural law.

Living in the Past in the Present
Part of being a Catholic is to live in the past in the present.

What I am getting at is the idea that the universality of the Catholic faith means that it transcends not only particular cultural circumstances and particular locales, but it also transcends time.

Think about it. At Mass the priest comes out robed like a Roman senator. Did you know that’s where the vestments first originated?

Dissecting Gossip and Sins of the Tongue
There is a popular story about a woman who had confessed the sin of gossip. For her penance she was told to go to the top of a nearby hill, pillow in hand, and cut it open. Shaking all the feathers into the wind, she had to go collect every last feather from the wilderness into which they had blown. Only then would her penance would be complete.

So it goes with each time we speak a word against another; we can never hope to recover all the information from whence it has been carried.

10 Things To Do During Advent
Advent begins this year on Sunday, November 30. How do you plan to spend the time leading up to Christmas? Will you use it to go into frenzied shopping mode? Or will you choose to use it as a time for reflection on the mystery that is the Incarnation and Birth of the Christ Child? If the latter, here are a few ideas that might come in helpful.

7 Facts You May Not Have Known About Advent
In this season of Holy Patience, we reflect and wait for the coming of the Christ Child. This feast being celebrated on the 25th of December, has become a grand holiday loved by both Christian and secular peoples. The coming time of preparation is, however, a much lesser known aspect of this season. Often chocolate calendars, carols, holiday movies and the changing of the priest’s vestments are the only precursory changes that we notice. We all know of Lent, but what is Advent? What is it’s history? Here are 7 facts you might not have known on the subject:

Nothing Compares To You
Of the many things I appreciate about the Catholic education my children have received here in Ohio, one that is pretty high on the list is the schools’ endeavors to educate parents who may have been poorly catechized or who may not even be Catholic themselves.

Here are 10 Very Interesting Facts About the Catholic Church You Probably Didn’t Know!
How much do you know about the Catholic Church? Here are 10 fun facts you might not know.

The Altar Server: A School of Faith
Today’s video provides both an excellent explanation of some of the ideas behind the altar server together with practical tips on how to serve with reverence and understanding.

Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?
Pure myth! That is today’s typical view of a literal Adam and Eve. Yet, contrary to current skepticism, a real Adam and Eve remain credible—both in terms of Catholic doctrine and sound natural science.

By calling the Genesis story a “myth,” people avoid saying it is mere “fantasy,” that is, with no foundation in reality at all. While rejecting a literal first pair of human parents for all mankind, they hope to retain some “deeper” truth about an original “sinful human condition,” a “mythic” meaning. They think that the latest findings in paleoanthropology and genetics render a literal pair of first true human parents to be “scientifically impossible.”

Catalog of Sin – All Items are in Stock, With Free Shipping and Handling from the Supplier
The video at the bottom of the page is something of a spoof on drug commercials, treating sin like a drug. Wait until you hear the side effects disclaimer at the end.

Grief, Loss, and Change through the Holidays – Making New Memories and Traditions
One of the hardest things about Thanksgiving Day, and then of course the Christmas holidays, is dealing with loss and grief. It’s just difficult to be in the holiday season when you are still dealing with sadness over the death of a loved one, loss of a marriage, or other changes in life that take us away from our traditions and ties to the past.

But there are ways to make the holidays bearable and even pleasant.  Here are some things that have worked for me in the past.

13 Things You Should NEVER Say to a Priest
The last thing we want to is insult someone, most of all our priests. However, sometimes, words slip, are chosen unwisely, or just come out wrong. There are though, things you should NEVER say to a priest.

Here’s a few:

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