As we begin a new liturgical year, with Advent, our Church reminds us of our need to be vigilant in the way we live our faith daily. Why do we begin the liturgical year with a “caution” or a stern advice from Jesus to “stay awake?” Basically, Jesus wants you and I to face the reality that we will never know the time or the hour of when the world will come to an end at the public and universal Second Coming or in God’s private coming for each of us, at the end of our lives.
Yes, the surest thing in life and the indisputable truth of life is that you and I can be here today, and be dead and gone tomorrow! The saddest thing in life is to be “awakened to the truth” that I have lived a life solely and selfishly for myself. That my self-centred living had brought so much pain to my loved ones and have caused much hurt and harm to innocent lives those under our care, and that I had little or no compassion for the poor and needy, the marginalised, the aged and the sick around me . . . that the world of turmoil, confusion and injustice did not bother me insofar as my gratifications are satisfied, my glory is promoted and my ego is fed?
Have you attended a wake or a funeral service where the deceased had lived a very painful life of great division in relationships, where quarrels were common, where greed for money, hunger for worldly success and preoccupation with one’s reputation had consumed the deceased family’s energy and life . . . and where the deceased literally did not die in peace? What do you say during such a funeral service . . . what can you say . . . what ought you say in such a service? Thank God such funeral services are not so common . . .
My brothers and sisters in Christ, Jesus in today’s Gospel tells us very clearly and unequivocally to “stay awake” to live a vigilant life. Jesus cites the people of the Old Testament times of Noah. He cautions us of how these people “before the Flood were eating, drinking, taking wives, taking husbands, right up to the day Noah went into the ark . . . and they suspected nothing till the Flood came and swept all away. In all of these happenings and sadness, only Noah’s family lived in God’s Will and Ways.
As we begin a new liturgical season, you and I are challenged by Jesus in today’s Gospel with the fundamental truth of life that we all need God; we all need to live in His Love and Ways . . . we all need to show our love for God to one another . . . in our families . . . to our neighbours . . . we are all challenged to forgive during our lifetime and not wait till we are breathless and too weak to utter our forgiveness . . . we are challenged to live our lives to the full . . . meaningfully and in Christ-like ways . . . and not allow the saddest thing in life to inflict us . . . where we are shaken with the shattering suddenness of having to face our death and the truth that we have squandered our lives and all of God’s abundant blessings . . . and lived a self-centered life; a life of misery, emptiness and sadness for ourselves and for others . . .
My sisters and brothers in Christ, very simply put, when Jesus in today’s Gospel challenges us to “stay awake,” He is reminding you and I that we must put God back where He belongs . . . He wants us to put Him back into the centre of our lives . . . He wants us to wake up to the truth that all forms of self-centred living can never ever bring any peace, joy and happiness in life . . . He wants us to make this decisive decision as we begin our liturgical season . . .
Is this possible . . . of course this is possible . . . Why? Because God is there for us . . . God will come into our hearts and homes . . . He will be present to us at all times of our lives . . . But, we must open our hearts and homes to His presence and not leave Him at the doorway of our home and exclude Him in the intimacy of our desires and the dreams of our lives.
St Paul in today’s Second Reading to the Romans, points out very bluntly to you and to me when he says, “you must wake up now . . . the night is almost over, it will be daylight soon – let us give up all the things we prefer to do under cover of the dark; let us arm ourselves and appear in the light. Let us live decently as people do in the daytime: not drunken orgies, no promiscuity or licentiousness, and no wrangling or jealousy. Let your amour be the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Rom.13: 11-14).
But, many of us here may respond to St Paul exhortation and say, “But, I do not live an immoral life and I do not wrangle or am jealous!” Praise the Lord if we do not do all these . . . But, when Jesus challenges you and I to “stay awake” and live a vigilant life, He is not trying to be picky and pinpoint our faults and try to tell us how wrong and upset He is with our lives . . . No, when Jesus urges us to live a more vigilant life . . . it is essentially urging us to love more Him more wholeheartedly.
And if we take this challenge to heart, we will surely experience the truth of today’s Psalm 121 that says to you and I personally, “there will be peace in your homes . . . in your palaces . . . for I rejoice when I heard them say, let us go to God’s house . . .”
As we begin the Advent season, week 1 is built on the theme of “hope” God truly wants you and I to receive this gift of hope, which we will become a reality if we only each “stay awake” and live vigilantly each moment of our day. We are called to be spiritually awake to the presence of God and live the Christ-like life that God Wills of us generously . . . and beg God personally, “to teach me to serve You and You deserve, to give and not to count the cost, to fight and not to heed the wounds, to toil and not to seek for rest, to labour and not to seek for reward, save that of knowing that I do Your most Holy Will.”
Do we take these words of wisdom of St Ignatius to heart when we pray this prayer at each Mass in our Parish, as a parish family? If we do, then we would be fully “awake” and would be living the “vigilance” that Jesus in today’s Gospel is urging and challenging you and I to live. We will also find deep peace, joy and love not only during the different weeks of Advent, but also throughout our lives, and our dying moments would be most peaceful for are assured in faith that God would be waiting for us at the other side of life . . . to embrace us and fill us with His infinite love, joy and peace together with our loved ones and all the saints in heaven for all eternity. Do we want this?
Msgr Philip Heng,S.J.
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