Sunday Sermon for November 29, 2015, the First Sunday of Advent, Year C
Readings: Jer 33:14-16; 1 Thes 3:12-4:2; Lk 21:25-28, 34-36
In the Gospel reading today our Lord instructs us to “be vigilant at all times and to pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations that are immanent and to stand before the Son of Man.” In the context of the statement, He is speaking about what will happen at the end of the world. However, He is also speaking to His Apostles, so the statement had relevance for the time in which it was spoken as well. We know that it was not long after our Lord’s death that the persecutions began for the Church and the Apostles, so everyone who followed the way of the Lord needed to employ the counsel given by our Lord in the above quote.
I have said often that we are living in a time that will prefigure what will be happening when the end comes. That means that we, too, have to take our Lord’s words to heart and put them into practice. This is essentially what St. Paul is telling us to do when he exhorts us to conduct ourselves in a manner that is pleasing to God. He told the Thessalonians that they were doing this already, but that they were to make even greater progress. This, too, we must apply to ourselves.
We can see this in two different ways. The first is the point our Lord makes in the Gospel that we are to be vigilant and to pray. I think it goes without saying that we can all grow in the spiritual life. The other perspective is that mentioned by St. Paul when He says that we should grow in love for one another. What we see in these two directives is just another way of saying that we are to love God and love our neighbor.
Love, by its nature, never remains the same; it either increases or it decreases. So, not only can we see that we need to keep working at our spiritual lives, but now we see that if we just try to maintain we will actually be going backward. This is precisely the point our Lord made when he spoke the parable of the talents. There was a man who buried the talent he received so as not to lose anything. In the end, it was taken from him. The same thing happened with the five virgins who thought they would have enough oil but found themselves locked out of the wedding feast because they were unprepared.
People are pretty good about preparing themselves for something that has a deadline. However, when it comes to preparing for possible future eventualities we are pretty pathetic. Our Lord told us in the Gospel today that the day will catch us by surprise, like a trap. When the time comes near to the end, people can look around and see the signs of the times and know that it will not be long. But “not long” in God’s terms can mean years, decades, or even centuries.
In our humanness, we are tempted to say that if it lasts for decades or centuries that we do not have to prepare for anything because it probably will not happen in our lifetime. While it may be true that it will not happen when we assume it will, our Lord did not say that we are to prepare only for that moment. Instead, He told us to pray that we have strength to escape the tribulations. These are the very things that will be happening in the years, decades, or centuries leading up to that final moment. So, while that moment will indeed come at some point, meaning that anyone at that time who assumes it will not happen in their lifetime will be wrong, the tribulations are going to affect everyone even if they will not be alive when the end comes.
All we have to do is to look back at what happened with the Hebrew people. For generations they knew that the Messiah, the shoot raised up for David as He is called in the first reading, would be coming to them. Because it was delayed in coming (from our perspective) they dismissed the possibility that it could take place while they were alive. They did not doubt that it would happen at some point, but probably not during their time on earth. When it did happen, the people had grown sluggish, essentially they had become very secular (not unlike our own time) and, consequently, they missed it because they were not prepared.
We may not be living in the end times, but we are definitely living in a time of tribulation. Be vigilant, pray, love God and neighbor, and make progress in this way of living every day.
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.