Msgr. Joseph A. Pellegrino
First Sunday of Advent: Sacred Lists
Santa has made his appearance at the end of the Macy Day parade and in the malls throughout the country. Christmas is upon us. Well, not really. For us Catholics, Advent is upon us. Christmas starts, well, on Christmas.
Advent is the season of waiting. We place ourselves back into the days of the Hebrew Scriptures and re-read the prophecies of the coming of the Messiah. We join the ancients in waiting for the Lord to be born. But that is only one way that we wait during Advent. We also wait for the Lord to come a second time, at the end of time, or, if we don’t live that long, at the end of our own time on earth. This second waiting is the theme of our readings for this week. “Wait for the Day of the Lord with increased love for one another,” Paul tells the Thessalonians in one of the most beautiful passages of Scripture, our second reading, “Wait for the Lord in a way that is pleasing to God by living out the instructions you have received.”
Today’s Gospel reading comes from the apocalyptical section of Luke. Like the Book of Revelations, or the Apocalypse, this literary genre uses frightening symbolism to move people into action. The predictions frighten us. “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on earth nations will be in dismay, perplexed by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will die of fright in anticipation of what is coming upon the world” We are meant to become emotionally involved. “Be vigilant at all times,” the Lord says, “and pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent and to stand before the Son of Man."
Stay awake. Be ready. These are the themes of the First Sunday of Advent. But how are we to be ready? Perhaps, we can take a cue for our advent preparation from the little children. Right now they are making out their lists to send to Santa. Well, we should also make out our lists, in our minds if not on paper. But our lists must be different than the children’s lists. Our lists must both contain what we need and demonstrate what we are doing to help fulfill our needs. At the Second Coming, be it at the end of time or the end of our own personal time on earth, at the Second Coming the Lord will examine our lists and then look to see if we have done our part to bring each item into reality.
This morning I want to give you a few examples of what should be on our lists, and how we should participate in attaining our needs.
At the top of our lists should be world peace. Terrorists have disrupted our sense of security. The world is involved in another world war, only one quite different than the two of the last century. This world war does not have battle lines. It exists wherever there are innocent people who can serve as targets for the extremists. We pray for peace continually, but what are we doing about it? Yes, we support our military who are fighting terrorists, but that certainly isn’t enough. How can we have peace if we hate those who hate us? We have to rid our hearts of hatred, even for those who are doing hideous atrocities in the name of a religion their leaders have perverted.
One way to eliminate hatred is to pray for the haters. We need to pray that those committing atrocities listen to their consciences and follow the natural law that God has planted within all rational people. These men and women who are told by their religious leaders to do horrible things to those they decide not to kill, have a voice within them that tells them that it is wrong to beat a child to death, do horrible things to a teenage girl, or mow down the captives of a village. They have a voice within them that tells them that it is wrong to kill people at a concert, on an airplane, or children in schools. We need to pray that they listen to the voice of God within them, not the voice of their perverted religious leaders. We need to pray that they be like St. Joseph who knew in his heart that it would be wrong to submit Mary to the law and have her stoned to death. He followed his conscience and by doing that he became the foster father of the Lord.
When the Lord comes and checks the top of our lists and sees world peace, He is going to ask us, “And what have you done to fight hatred.” We need to respond, “I have prayed for those committing the abominations. I then found that when I prayed for them to return to you, I could not hate them, I could only hate their actions.”
Somewhere on our lists we have to ask the Lord that people keep their vows, their marriage vows and their religious vows. If people were faithful to their marriages, we would not have a fear for the deterioration of family life. If priests and religious were faithful to their vows, we would not be concerned about the direction of the Church. But what are we doing about these vows? First of all, we need to remember what a vow is. It is not simply a promise. A vow is a commitment to God to live our lives in a way that puts Him in the center of our lives. Those who marry make a vow to God through their husband or wife. Their vow is to make Him present in their love for their spouse. To do this they have to love as Christ loved, with sacrificial love. When people work hard to make this type of love the center of their marriage, then despite all the difficulties of daily life, all the warts of the human condition, the love of Christ will prevail.
Those who become priests or religious make vows to serve God through serving his people. When the love of God really becomes the center of their lives, then their own wants become secondary to the needs of God’s people. The Church then remains on the direction of serving God through his people, and is not tied up in fulfilling tradition and manmade laws for the sake of tradition and manmade laws.
When the Lord comes and sees on our lists that we have placed the keeping of vows, he is going to ask us, “How well have you kept your own vows? And what have you done to help others keep their vows?” We need to respond, “When I was young, I prayed to God to prepare me for marriage. After I married, I prayed for my spouse every day. I prayed for other people’s marriages. I have prayed for my parents’ marriage. I have prayed to God to help me prepare to be a priest or religious; and I have prayed for all those who have made vows to you.”
On these interactive lists that we are preparing to show the Lord on the Last Day, the world or ours, we have to place the needs of our children, Teens and young adults. We pray that the young have the courage to withstand the many forces attacking their spiritual lives. We pray that they have the determination to change the world from one that glorifies the self, tries to convince them to make themselves the center of the universe, to a world that radiates the Love of Christ. And when the Lord asks all of us, “What have you done to bring this about?” we need to respond, “I have fought hypocrisy in my own life. I realized that the young need models to look up to and to follow. I have also prayed for the young. I pray for my children, your children, every day.”
These are just a few of the items we need to place on our interactive lists preparing for the Last Day. We should add that life be respected, including the lives of those who do not respect life. We should put on our lists freedom and pray for freedom, true freedom, not licentiousness. True freedom is the freedom to be our best selves not the freedom to do whatever we want without considering the impact of our actions on ourselves or on others. We should put on our lists those who are struggling to have a decent existence, those who lack housing, or food, or water, or health care, those who are physically, mentally or emotionally challenged. We need to pray for the least of our society, the poor, and the marginalized, and we need to find ways to reach out to them. The Lord told us in Matthew 25, that at the end of time he will ask, “And what have you done for the least of my brethren?”
Advent calls us to prepare for life, the fullness of life with family and friends, and the promise of life eternal. Advent calls us to focus in on all that is sacred. It warns us that if we don’t reflect on what is sacred, more than that, if we are not active in promoting that which is sacred, then we will assure the arrival of a day when nothing is sacred.
And so we are told, “Stay Awake,” for the One is coming who will soon be checking our lists.