How do we prepare for death? By living.
Sunday Homily for November 30, 2008
First Sunday in Advent (1AdvB)
By Fr. James Gilhooley
A dramatic picture appeared in a newspaper. It was a young man dead from a drug overdose in his cherry red Corvette. The car was parked beside a parking meter that read "TIME EXPIRED." But so, too, is my clock expiring. So is yours. No wonder Jesus says today, "Stay awake."
An auto decal reads: "Jesus is coming back. Look busy." Today's Gospel affirms He will return for each of us.
Rod McKuen's ballad sets the theme for today's Gospel. "We've all grown older. Come see where we have been, out here rusting in the rain."
In a twenty four hour period, I learned of the sudden death in separate incidents of three friends. Each was younger than I. This fresh Advent I am reminded vividly I do not know "when the Master of the house is coming." Their death tells us that we all live "in the shadow of eternity."
The disciple asked, "How do we prepare for death?" The hermit replied simply, "By living." Somehow these next four weeks, we must learn to live as if the Christ was crucified yesterday, rose this early morning, and will return for us at any hour. Would that we could in this fresh liturgical year come to remember today's first reading that God is the potter and we are but the clay!
To paraphrase a Time magazine article, Advent is the season in which we Christians preside over the reinvention of ourselves. We strive to climb out of our deepest problems by reimagining our Christian lives. It should be, as Thomas Merton advises, "the beginning of the end in us of all that is not Christ."
The Church wisely gives us these next four weeks to let us know Jesus is not enchanted with us. Yet, even a quick self-examination tells us that we are unhappy with our own situations. Each of us is shot through with potentialities which we have been fearful to actualize to this point at least. Change and growth frighten everyone. Yet, John Powell advises us, "There is an old Christian tradition that God sends each person into this world with a special message to deliver, a special song to sing for others, a special act of love to bestow."
Were a scientist to warn us that an earthquake measuring 7.0 on the Richter scale was fast approaching, we would take every precaution imaginable. Yet, unhappily, the Master's prediction that He shall return does not move us to make even accidental changes in our lives. But, given the on target correctness of the prophecies of His first arrival told in Micheas 5:2-6 and Isaiah 9: 6-7, one would think we would be smart enough to act accordingly. Should we decide not to do so, we can hardly fault the Early Warning System God has today put in place in Mark's Gospel. "Be on your guard..."
Many think they're too old to renew themselves. Knowing that, Glen Van Ekeren put together statistics. George Burns won an Oscar at 80. Golda Meir became Prime Minister of Israel at 71. At 96, George Bernard Shaw broke his leg when he fell out of a tree he was trimming. Grandma Moses began painting at 80. Michelangelo was 71 when he painted the Sistine chapel. Albert Schweitzer was performing surgery at 89. Casey Stengel was managing the Mets at 74. Do you still think you're too old? Yesterday we are told is a memory. Tomorrow but a dream.Now is the only time on which eternity depends.
A story comes to us from Eastern mysticism that we might want to make our own this Advent. "Abbot, what has God's wisdom taught you? Did you become divine?" "Not at all." Did you become a saint?" "No, as you can clearly see." "What then, O Abbot?" "I became awake!" The Abbot might have been reading today's Gospel "Be on your guard, stay awake..."
Charles Lindberg flew across the Atlantic Ocean solo and nonstop in 1927 from New York to Paris in 33 hours and 30 minutes. To get himself ready for the ordeal, he often refused to go to bed. When asked why, he replied, "Just practicing to stay awake all night." This is the attitude that Christ would have us bring to this opening day of Advent. "Stay awake. You don't know the day nor the hour when I will come for you."
Here are suggestions to start your reformation from the Providence Visitor, "Become a volunteer at a local hospital. Help a friend with a project he or she is working on. Offer comfort to someone unhappy. Stand up for someone being treated unfairly. Reconcile with someone you have quarreled with. Wish people you meet a good day and help make it so."