03 December 2017

Homily - 3 December 2017 - The First Sunday of Advent: Watchfulness and the lesson of a surfer

The First Sunday of Advent (B)

Dear brothers and sisters,

When he was the Archbishop of Munich and Freising, Pope Benedict XVI described this great season of Advent as “hastening with a watchful heart toward the encounter with Jesus Christ.”[1]

The person who acts with haste is one who is impassioned; the hastening person is filled with both love and zeal. He is motivated both to obtain and to share that which is loved. I have been known to hasten for a cold Dr Pepper, inside a bookstore, and even towards the rising or setting of the sun. Each of us hastens towards those things and persons of which and for whom we are especially fond.

In these initial days of Advent, Holy Mother Church again presents us with the blessed opportunity to ask an important question: To whom or what do I hasten? Do I hasten toward the Lord? Do I hasten toward his worship? Do I hasten toward the things that are of him? Too often, for each of us, the answer is simply, “No.” So it is that we come today asking the Lord, “Why do you let us wander, O Lord, from your ways, and [let us] harden our hearts so that we fear you not” (Isaiah 63:17)? So it is that we call out to him, “Lord, make us turn to you; let us see your face and we shall be saved” (Psalm 80:4).

Yes, those who have seen the Lord’s face hasten towards him. The memory of his face, of his strength and gentleness, of his justice and mercy, of his kindness and love, keeps them hastening ever towards him, eager to gaze eternally upon his radiant beauty. As we seek his face, we must remember that

we are to hasten toward him as watchful people who no longer allow the appearances of this world to drive from ears and from our eyes one fact that the world tries to make us forget: that he is the real center, that he is in our midst. To live in this spirit of Advent means to live as someone who has been awakened, and then this also includes the responsibility of someone who is keeping watch to awaken others, because it is the truly important thing.[2]

But what do we do when others do not want to be awakened? What do we do when they do not want to be called back to the center, back to what is truly important? We must continue with a watchful heart and beg the Lord to “give us new life, and we will call upon your name” (Psalm 80:19).

Just as the person who hastens is a man or woman with passion, so, too, the one with a watchful heart, for he or she longs to experience the joy of that or whom is loved. Simply consider how a surfer paddles out from the shore and takes his place upon the waters. He watches patiently for just the right wave he wants to ride in order to experience the thrill, the excitement, and the pleasure of being carried along by that which he knows he cannot control. Once his ride is finished, he paddles back out again; his heart is ever-watchful.

Here, too, Holy Mother Church provides these blessed days of Advent as an opportunity for us to ask if our hearts are truly ever-watchful for the Lord, ever-watchful for him who will carry us through the storms of life, for him whom we cannot control. Just as the surfer turns his back to the shore to watch for his wave, so, too, must we turn our backs on the world to watch for the coming of Christ, whom “even the winds and the sea obey” (Matthew 8:27).

Finally, Advent calls us to the encounter with Christ, to the encounter with him who commands us to “be watchful” (Mark 13:33)! Our English word “encounter” is a curious one, for at its etymological roots it means something rather different from the way in which we ordinarily use it. “Encounter” comes from the thirteenth century Old French word encontre, meaning “a meeting, a fight, or an opportunity.” Ultimately, it comes from the Latin incontra, meaning “in front of,” as in “against.” And yet, do we not often think of the encounter with Christ as the meeting of rivals? Is this not why we do not always hastens towards him and why our hearts are not always ever-watchful for him?

It is true that when a person first realizes the closeness of the Lord he is frightened because he notices how little his life corresponds to [the Lord’s] and asks: What should I do? But anyone who stands firm for while in this proximity will hear a second word, too. Not only: “Let all men know your goodness,” but also the call: “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say rejoice.” The nearness of the Lord is joy, for it means to discover and perceive that I am accepted, I am needed; there is someone who wants me, who loves me. And all the futile moments of my life are undergirded by the fact that my life is willed and needed.[3]

All of this we learn from the encounter with Christ, in the Church, in the Scriptures, and especially in the Sacraments. Let us, then, implore the Lord to renew our hearts so that we might be ever-watchful for him and hasten toward him when at last he comes. Amen.

[1] Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Teaching and Learning the Love of God: Being a Priest Today, trans. Michael J. Miller (San Francisco, California: Ignatius Press, 2016), 151.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid., 155.

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