As I reflected on the time I have been assigned to St Rose, I began to feel a little melancholy. Time goes by so quickly! It slips like water through our fingers. Last week we celebrated Thanksgiving; in just four more weeks we’ll be celebrating Christmas, then New Year’s day, then St Valentine’s Day, then Mother’s’ Day, then Fourth of July, and then Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years all over again. I remember when I was six years old I would see someone in their thirties and be struck but how “grown-up” they were, even old. Now I have caught up with those ancient thirty somethings I used to observe. It’s all a matter of passing time.
The Liturgy over these past Sundays has been instilling in us a sense of the urgency of conversion, for time is running out. However it’s not biological time that the Liturgy references but rather the time required for conversion. We only really have the present moment for conversion. On recent Sundays we’ve been hearing the words “The kingdom of God is near,” and apocalyptic readings, stories about the end of times. Today we hear, in the words of Jesus Christ that, “At an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come” (Mt 24:44). It is with this sense of urgency that we need to convert ourselves, to submit ourselves to the grace of God and allow conversion to occur.
We must be prepared. In the first reading we hear a call to action: “Come, let us climb to the Lord’s mountain to the house of the God of Jacob” (Mic 4:2). Paul calls upon this same sense of urgency in the Second Reading: “It is the hour now for you to awake from sleep. For our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed; the night is advanced the day is at hand. Let us then throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light… Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the desires of the flesh” (Rm 13:11-14).
Technology is a marvelous thing. If we don’t know something, all we have to do is Google it and in 0.32 seconds we can get an answer. The problem is that this habituates us to always expect an immediate response to what we need. When we live our lives with the belief that we should be able to find whatever we are seeking in a matter of milliseconds, then we can begin to poison our spiritual lives with this attitude. We think, OK, Advent has started so now I’m going to pray more and harder. We place ourselves in the silence of prayer for a few seconds and… Nothing happens. We can’t hear God and so we panic: He’s not speaking to me! I can’t do this. I’m not cut out for this. We start finding excuses. We forget that our spiritual life is exactly that, a spiritual life, and not a mechanical quest.
In the season of Advent, when we we start making resolutions to deepen our spiritual life and to turn our gaze back to Christ, let’s us remember that it is a season, a recurring ‘time’ with its own qualities that must be approached with a sense of newness. Trees are not bored by living through the same seasons every year. Sometimes it could feels like this is what it is, the same time, the same truths of our faith, over and over again, year after year. Nothing changes! We exclaim. But we would be wrong. Going back to the example of the tree, every year, at the same season, what changes is the tree itself. This year the tree has more leaves and deeper roots, maybe the tree even lost a branch to a storm, or fought off a plague. It is the same tree and yet it is not the same tree; It is renewed. So, yes, seasons don’t change. Advent does not change. The truths of our faith do not change. But we do, and we come renewed to the season of Advent to be reminded of one truth: That the God we believe in is a God who loves us. The God we believe in takes the initiative to look for us, so much so that he became one of us and lived among us.
Advent is a season of preparation. Not because we have to fear God or his punishment, but because we acknowledge God as the God of our lives. In this vein, I would like to suggest, guided by St. Paul, two reflections to begin this season of Advent.
Firstly, be awake! Truly wake up to your spiritual life; examine your beliefs, your attitudes, your interests, and your way of living, knowing that some of them are not in accordance with the way of Christ and His Gospel. We all need conversion; conversion is a matter of a lifetime. Paul reminds us of this when he tell us not focus on the pleasures of this life too much, but to focus on Christ, to put on Christ.
Secondly, “Throw off the works of darkness and put on our Lord Christ.” There is no secret therapy, or a magic pill, that will resolve every personal, social, psychological or family issue that we face. But if we strive to put on Christ, to stay close to prayer, and to His Word and Sacraments, this will give us a constant sense of newness of faith, of life. To live our lives knowing that our God is a God of love, and that nothing goes unnoticed under his gaze, brings us true comfort, more comfort than anything else can bring us in this world. The Psalm suggests the spirit of how we can approach conversion and greet life with this sense of freshness, like the tree in a new season: it is through joy. Our conversion is a joyous conversion; It is not dull, grey way of life. Our conversion is full of life because Christ himself is life.
Mary can we be a great source of guidance to us in this time. She herself had to prepare to receive Christ Jesus, the Word made flesh. She spent time nurturing the word of God, pondering it in her heart, and developing her prayer life. She can show us how to prepare our souls to receive our Lord.
I leave you with the words of the poet T.S. Eliot, and his reflection on how we come to see the familiar with a fresh gaze:
“We shall not cease from exploration,
and the end of all our exploring
will be to arrive where we started
and know the place for the first time.”
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