Today we celebrate the first Sunday of Advent and the beginning of a new Church year. We know Advent is a time of preparation to celebrate Christmas, so it would seem logical that our readings would somehow begin to prepare us for that feast. But that is not what happens. Our Gospel continues the theme of the last few weeks, warning us to be prepared for the coming of the master, because we do not know when that will be. The Gospel begins with, Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come and ends with, What I say to you, I say to all: ‘Watch!’ In between is Mark’s version of the servants left to take care of things while the master goes away.
“Be watchful!” “Be alert!” “Watch.” It can sound scary. But I don’t think it is helpful to be scared or fearful. For me, the operative word is “alert.” For example, it is certainly more challenging to drive these days. But being afraid doesn’t help me; being more alert and watchful about the drivers around me is helpful. The same with walking in a dark parking lot late at night: being scared could paralyze me, but I certainly am alert and watchful.
Similarly, being fearful could actually make it harder for us to do what Jesus wants, which is to be watchful for His coming in the beggar on the street, in the homebound person who is isolated, in the people coming into the food pantry for essentials, in the difficult coworker or family member that everyone avoids, and so on. If I am afraid and cautious, I might be less willing to take the risk of reaching out and interacting.
As we begin this season of being watchful and waiting to celebrate the birth of Christ, let us resolve to grow in our ability to be watchful and alert, so that we are better able to recognize Christ as he comes to us in the people and situations of our daily lives. God bless.
Church sign of the week: The right thing and the hard thing are usually the same thing.
Judging from the number of television series about courtroom drama over the years, from Perry Mason to Law and Order, we have a fascination with law and order. Well, the ultimate “law and order” moment is presented to us in today’s Gospel about the Last Judgment.
The key sentence at the Last Judgment is whatever you did for one of the least, you did for me. This is the ultimate criterion on which we will be judged. Not how many times we went to Mass, not how many rosaries we said, etc. These are important aids to help us live as we should, but they are not the be all and end all.
The most important word in that sentence is least. Jesus is concerned about those who have no power or position, those who are shunned by others. It could be the relative that everyone ignores at a family gathering – or who isn’t even invited! It could be the difficult coworker whom everyone avoids. It is the beggar on the street, the
immigrant with no place to stay, the person with very different cultural norms, etc. etc. In other words, it is the people no one wants to be around.
The last four words in the sentence underscore the gravity of our decisions: you did for me. In whatever way we treated these unwanted, unpopular people, we treated our judge. If we helped them, we helped our judge, And vice versa.
Jesus is a compassionate judge, not a harsh one. He wants the best for everyone. He wants all those who need help or support to receive it and He wants us to do our part. As we are compassionate, He will be able to be compassionate to us.
How have I done over this past Church year? Have I grown in my ability to be compassionate and supportive to those in need? Am I in a better position to meet Christ the King than I was a year ago? Perhaps reflecting on this will help me enter the season of Advent, a time of preparation to celebrate the first coming of Christ, more focused on growth in my preparation for meeting him when He comes to me at the end of my life.
Christ wants desperately to be compassionate to me. Am I living in such a way as to allow Him?
Church sign of the week: Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.
Our readings these last couple weeks are preparing us for next Sunday’s feast of Christ the King, which ends the Church year. Last week our readings warned us, with the parable of the wise and foolish virgins, to be prepared to meet Christ at the end of our lives. Our Gospel this weekend, the last Gospel before we hear the parable of the Last Judgment on the feast of Christ the King, gives us a hint on how we can be prepared.
The Gospel presents 3 servants, each being given talents to take care of (one received 5, one received 3, and the last received 1). Each one received something and was expected to use it. The master was not comparing the servants: he did not expect the one who received only 1 talent to produce what the others did. He just wanted each one to use what was given him to him to produce a reasonable profit.
What has God given you? Each of us has time. After I take care of the things I have to do, how do I use my time? Is it all for me? Or do I spend some time on others, such as visiting the homebound or volunteering at a food pantry? The same with money. After I take care of my responsibilities and basic needs, do I spend all the money left over on me? Or am I generous where there is a need? Finally, the talents and skills we have been given – and all of us have skills. Do we use them where they are needed and can help others? For example, I am not very sensate so I am not good at decorating (they don’t even want me in the church, when they are decorating). But I am a good writer and teacher. I can use those skills to build up the community and help others.
I invite us all to look at the gifts that God has given us, even the smallest. When we all cooperate together and share the talents we have, our worship space gets cleaned, our flowers and grounds look wonderful, warm personalities answer the rectory door and phone,
fellowship Sunday happens, music makes our worship special, the Word of God is proclaimed, people are welcomed to our services, the food pantries are stocked, wells are built in Tanzania, etc., etc.
All of us have God-given gifts and even the smallest are needed. Let us resolve to use our gifts of time, talent, and treasure to the best of our ability to fulfil our responsibilities and to serve others. Then we will hear the words that the servants heard in today’s Gospel: Well done, my good and faithful servant…Come, share your master's joy.
Church sign of the week: There’s only one way to get through some things: together.
As we near the end of the Church year and the feast of Christ the King (in 2 weeks), our readings are reminding us that our lives will end and we will stand before our King: we need to be prudent and prepare ourselves.
Our Gospel this weekend is the parable of the 5 wise virgins and the 5 foolish virgins. Today we would use the word “bridesmaids.” The groom went to the bride’s house to get her and bring her back to his own house, where the celebration would begin. They did not have Ubers then, the distances could be long, and so it was unclear when the couple would return. The bridesmaids were to be waiting with torches to welcome them and lead them safely into the house.
It may seem harsh and un-Gospel-like that the 5 wise virgins refused to share with the others. But, if the oil was divided, the reality was that all of them might not have had enough oil and the arriving couple would be left to fumble in darkness. They were not being mean: they were being practical.
The point of all of this is to remind us that we need to live in such a way that we are ready to meet Christ our King, whenever that may be. It might be today; it might not be for 30 years! But it will happen and we need to be prepared.
I find it hard to wrap my mind around the reality that I WILL die someday. It could be a sudden heart attack. It could be a violent automobile crash. It could be…. But the point is this: if I am doing my best to live a life of Gospel values, sharing God’s love, compassion and goodness with others, I have nothing to be worried about. Jesus will say to me: Come, you who are blessed by my Father…for I was
hungry and you gave me food…
Am I ready? What can I do to be more prepared?
Church sign of the week: Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.
Our readings this weekend are a reminder to us that we need to LIVE the faith we profess: we need to walk the walk and not just talk the talk. In both the first reading and the Gospel, religious leaders are chastised because they are more concerned about themselves and their status than the people they were supposed to be serving.
This is obviously a challenge to priests and other religious leaders to remember that it is all about being of service to others, not honor and glory for oneself. I believe Pope Francis says it well when he reminds us clerics that we have to “smell like the sheep.” The honor, for me, of being a priest is the opportunity to serve others.
But every person, no matter their status in life, can take a lesson from these readings. As I go through life, what criteria do I use for making decisions? What is important to me? To look good? To make money? To have more power? Being concerned for ourselves is a natural, human need and these things will be a part of our decision
making. But, is the welfare of others also a part? Helping others? Sharing with those in need? Do I always have to be first or can I let others go ahead?
Living a life of Gospel values means gradually allowing the “me” in my decision making become less dominant, as I reach out to others in need. It is not either/or, but rather both/and. The challenge before us is to make sure we are growing in our ability to live a life that includes the needs of others in our decision making.
Let us pray that each one of us, no matter where we are in life, will continue to grow in our ability to show our love of God through love of neighbor.
Church sign of the week: Kindness is the only investment that never fails.