Homily for the
1st Sunday of AdventNov. 28, 2010
Matt 24: 37-44
Ursulines, Willow Dr., New Rochelle
“It is the hour now for your to awake from sleep,” St. Paul alerts the Romans (13:11). He probably wasn’t talking about getting up in time for meditation, or not drowsing off after you get to chapel. As he makes clear in what follows, he’s talking about living out the conversion of life that we undertook at Baptism. He’s talking about “staying awake” as if in vigil for the Lord’s return, as Jesus says. As you know, this 1st Sunday of Advent looks to his 2d coming, not his 1st.
The words of Jesus today have given rise in some Protestant sects to a whole theology of the Rapture: “one will be taken, and one will be left” (Matt 24:40-41). In advance of the 2d Coming of Christ, God will “catch up” and “whisk away to heaven” those who are to be saved, and leave behind those who don’t belong to Christ, to face horrific calamities. That theology spawned a best-selling series of novels called Left Behind. They tried making movies of the books, and let’s say they weren’t Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter. I saw one, and that was quite enuf.
But there’s a serious message here, a message of expecting the Master’s return, of being prepared. When he comes, Jesus says, it’ll be sudden, “as in the days of Noah” (24:37). If you haven’t already built your ark, it’ll be too late when the clouds gather and burst open. When the Son of Man comes, it’ll be decisive: “one will be taken, and one will be left”—not left behind in an evil word, as Rapture theology would have it, but left out of the kingdom, counted among the goats at the Judge’s left hand (cf. Matt 25:31-46). Our opening prayer this morning asked that “Christ…call us to his side in the kingdom,” counting us among his sheep.
I think I may safely assume that I needn’t repeat Paul’s entire warning to the Ursulines. I doubt the convent is secretly a college frat house.
So what is Jesus telling us today when he tells us, whether out tilling the fields or at the threshold grinding meal, to stay awake and be ready for the Lord?
Two things, both of which we learned—or they tried to teach us—in the novitiate: age quod agis, go about your regular duties attentively and wholeheartedly; and live in the presence of God.
When Jesus tells his disciples to stay awake, he doesn’t place them at prayer in the synagog or in the family room, gathered and waiting (as some sects have done when some misguided prophet has convinced them that the Last Day is at hand). Jesus, rather, places his disciples at their daily tasks: a man in the fields, a woman at her home millstone. My favorite story of St. Aloysius Gonzaga (which I’ve probably shared with you before) concerns how he and his young Jesuit companions were at recreation one day—doing whatever novices and scholastics did in the late 16th century for recreation—and one fellow asked Aloysius what he’d do if he knew that he was to die in the next half hour. Apparently this comrade expected Aloysius to say he’d go to church to pray, or seek out his confessor, or some such thing. Instead, Aloysius answered that he’d keep right on playing, because that was what God expected him to be doing at that time.
And God expects us to stay awake in expectation of his coming by going about our daily duties, attentively and wholeheartedly: praying, cleaning, letter writing, cooking, engaging in conversation, reading, driving someone to the doctor, assisting the sick, the aged, the needy, whatever the day, the moment, the person before us calls for. If our mind or our heart is elsewhere—whether taken up in heavenly thoughts and prayer, or more earthbound by what we’d rather be doing or with whom we’d rather be talking just then—then we won’t do well what we’re supposed to be doing just then or won’t be serving well the person who’s right in front of us just then. Age quod agis, in the Lord.
2d, as we go about our daily work, relaxation, conversation, and prayer, we try to be conscious of God’s presence—conscious according to the circumstances, of course. While we’re driving, we’d better be more attentive to the road than to the Lord! While speaking with someone, we’d better be attending to what she’s saying and not thinking about Mary visiting Elizabeth or Jesus dying on the cross. But we have many moments when we can whisper at least mentally that we’re speaking, moving, thinking, even breathing in the Lord’s name, offering our all to the Father thru our Savior. “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God,” Paul urges the Corinthians (I, 10:31). “Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus,” he commands the Thessalonians (I, 5:17-18). As we undertake our daily chores, our daily routine, our meetings, our physical exercise, whatever we do, we consciously or unconsciously—but better consciously —offer them to the Father in Christ. We do them for him, and from time to time we try to make that explicit. We invite Jesus to accompany us in our conversation, our walking, our working, our reading, even our resting, and to present all this to the Father as our humble prayers of praise and gratitude.