28 November 2021
Jeremiah 33:14-16 1 Thessalonians 3:12-4:2 Luke 21:25-28, 34-36
Theme: ‘Stay Awake, praying at all times’ (Luke 21)
A French philosopher once said that ‘only beginnings are beautiful’. While this may be a bit of an exaggeration, it is true that there is something particularly beautiful about beginnings. No matter how crazy the world may seem at times, or how messy our own lives may be, we can always make a fresh start. Beginnings are full of purpose, energy, and visions of something new and fresh that fire the imagination and warm the heart. The recently deceased Kerry poet, Brendan Kennelly, wrote a lovely poem about beginnings which ends with these striking lines:
Though we live in a world that dreams of ending, that always seems about to give in, something that will not acknowledge conclusion insists that we forever begin.
We have just begun a brand-new liturgical year with the season of Advent – four weeks of preparation for the celebration of Christ’s birth. In the words of a famous prayer the purpose of Advent, with its attractive symbols [the four candles and the wreath], prayers and readings, is to help us ‘to see Christ more clearly, love him more dearly and follow him more closely’ (St Richard of Chichester). This season is designed to help us to appreciate more fully the significance of Christ’s first coming, and to make more room for him in our hearts now as we await his Second Coming. Advent is the time when we begin again our annual journey with the Lord, letting go of the negative baggage of the past, and opening our minds and hearts more fully to the Spirit of the Risen Christ present and active among us.
Our first reading today, taken from the prophet Jeremiah, draws our attention to the great hope of the people of Israel for a Messiah who would transform their lives – a hope that was fulfilled with the first coming of Christ. The Messiah is foreseen as a wise leader who will establish honesty, integrity and justice in the land. The gospel from Luke focuses on the Second Coming of Christ. ‘The Son of Man will come in a cloud with power and great glory’ (cf. Lk 21:27). Although heralded by spectacular and terrifying cosmic events, the faithful followers of Christ need have no fear. ‘When these things begin to take place, stand erect, hold your heads high, because your liberation is near hand’ (Lk 21:28).
In the second reading, St Paul exhorts us, while we await this Second Coming, to live ‘holy and blameless lives’ … ‘the kind of lives that God wants us to live’ (1 Thess 3:13 – 4:1). In the gospel reading, Jesus urges his disciples to ‘stay awake, praying at all times’ (Lk 21: 29). This does not mean that we never relax or that we spend lots of time in Churches and keep on saying prayers. Nothing could be more soul-destroying. What Jesus means is that we pay attention to the presence and action of God in our lives here and now. It means that we tune in to what the Spirit is saying to us, not just in Scripture, but also in the Book of Nature (God’s primary revelation). God is also constantly speaking to us in and through the people we meet and in the apparently insignificant events of our daily lives. Too often we are not fully present or awake when God is speaking to us but rather sleepwalking through life. Advent is a time to wake up and become more spiritually alert.
Along with attentive and prayerful listening to the Lord, today’s gospel also warns to be careful lest our ‘hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the cares of this life’ (Lk 21:34). While we might not succumb to drunkenness and dissipation, there is a real danger today of our hearts being seduced by the prevalent myth that the more of life we experience the better. Advertisements urge us to try everything and to leave no stone unturned. But it is precisely this attitude that deadens our capacity to recognise, acknowledge and enjoy the ordinary simple miracles of life. Eventually even the most beautiful things become stale and boring. It is when we resist the destructive impulse to grab at life’s gifts, when we allow the inner beauty in things – and more especially in people – to speak to us, that we become ever more aware of loving presence of God all around us.
In his poem entitled Advent, Patrick Kavanagh draws our attention to the importance of this blessed season in re-awakening our childhood sense of wonder and opening our hearts to the divine beauty all around us.
We have tested and tasted too much, lover –
Through a chink too wide there comes in no wonder.
But here in the Advent-darkened room
Where the dry black bread and sugarless tea
Of penance will charm back the luxury
Of a child’s soul, we’ll return to Doom
The knowledge we stole but could not use.
Advent is a time when the Church invites us to cast aside ‘the clay-minted wages of pleasure’ and wake up to the wonder of God’s loving presence in the creatures he has made. There is no better way to prepare our hearts to celebrate the birthday of Christ, who ‘comes to meet us with a January flower‘ (Patrick Kavanagh).
Michael McCabe SMA, November 2021
To listen to an alternative Homily from Fr Tom Casey of the SMA Media Centre, Ndola, Zambia please click on the play button below.