Central idea: Be watchful! Be alert! Doctrine: Humble vigilance of heart in prayer. Practical application: Being a better servant.
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Central idea: Be watchful! Be alert!
Reading 1 Is 63:16b-17, 19b; 64:2-7
You, LORD, are our father,
our redeemer you are named forever.
Why do you let us wander, O LORD, from your ways,
and harden our hearts so that we fear you not?
Return for the sake of your servants,
the tribes of your heritage.
Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down,
with the mountains quaking before you,
while you wrought awesome deeds we could not hope for,
such as they had not heard of from of old.
No ear has ever heard, no eye ever seen, any God but you
doing such deeds for those who wait for him.
Would that you might meet us doing right,
that we were mindful of you in our ways!
Behold, you are angry, and we are sinful;
all of us have become like unclean people,
all our good deeds are like polluted rags;
we have all withered like leaves,
and our guilt carries us away like the wind.
There is none who calls upon your name,
who rouses himself to cling to you;
for you have hidden your face from us
and have delivered us up to our guilt.
Yet, O LORD, you are our father;
we are the clay and you the potter:
we are all the work of your hands.
- The Catechism tells us that in the Old Testament, God himself teaches humanity how to pray. This revelation of prayer comes between God the Father’s sorrowful words to his first children in the Garden, “Where are you? . . . What is this that you have done?” (Gn 3:9,13) and God the Son’s answer when he comes into the world, “Lo, I have come to do your will, O God” (Heb 10:5-7). (CCC 2568)
- Isaiah’s lament is an example of this divine pedagogy of prayer. Isaiah is speaking from the depths of his heart with utmost seriousness in a dire situation. There will be times in our own lives when we will do the same. I think this dialogue between man and God goes something like this:
- God is our father and redeemer—Yes, I am.
- Please don’t let us reject you—No, I want to “let you” have freedom. That is better for you.
- Please perform a great sign for us—Why do you need another sign to believe in me? Nevertheless, when I send my Son you will see signs and wonders again.
- We wish we would do what is right—Then why don’t you? I’ll help you.
- You are angry because we are sinful—Yes, you are sinful and I oppose sin. What you think is my anger is consequences of rejecting me.
- You have abandoned us and we deserve it— If I had abandoned you, you would not be calling on me now.
- Yet you are our father—Yes.
- We are all the work of your hands—You are the work of “our” hands: yours and mine.
Responsorial Psalm Ps 80:2-3, 15-16, 18-19
R. Lord, make us turn to you; let us see your face and we shall be saved.
O shepherd of Israel, hearken,
from your throne upon the cherubim, shine forth.
Rouse your power,
and come to save us.
Once again, O LORD of hosts,
look down from heaven, and see;
take care of this vine,
and protect what your right hand has planted
the son of man whom you yourself made strong.
May your help be with the man of your right hand,
with the son of man whom you yourself made strong.
Then we will no more withdraw from you;
give us new life, and we will call upon your name.
- “Make us turn to you.” Due to the wound of original sin, it is natural that we would ask for something unnatural, that God would override our freedom and force us to be pleasing to him.
- The truth is that we cannot be close to God without his grace but we must cooperate.
- We do need leaders (“the son of man . . . the man of your right hand”) in the Church—prophets, priests, and kings—so it is right to pray: strengthen them so they can strengthen us.
- Christ is preeminently this “son of man” and “man of your right hand” through whom God gives us new life and through whom we can call on God’s name.
- Through the Sacraments, each member of the Church becomes a “son of man whom you yourself made strong” and who then shares in Christ’s prophetic, priestly, and royal offices.
Reading 2 1 Cor 1:3-9
Brothers and sisters:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father
and the Lord Jesus Christ.
I give thanks to my God always on your account
for the grace of God bestowed on you in Christ Jesus,
that in him you were enriched in every way,
with all discourse and all knowledge,
as the testimony to Christ was confirmed among you,
so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift
as you wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ.
He will keep you firm to the end,
irreproachable on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.
God is faithful,
and by him you were called to fellowship with his Son,
Jesus Christ our Lord.
- CCC 2568 points to the first epoch of salvation history—the time between God the Father’s words to Adam and Eve after they had sinned and the arrival of the Son of the Father as man to redeem us from sin.
- Now we are in the second epoch of salvation history—the time between that first coming of Our Lord Jesus Christ and his second coming in glory, “the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
- Paul teaches the Corinthians that God the Father calls them to fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ, and so, they have everything they need to remain irreproachably faithful until this second coming.
- We don’t have to say to God “make me be good.” Through the sacraments he gives us the grace to be good and faithful servants—or even better—sons and daughters.
Gospel Mk 13:33-37
Jesus said to his disciples:
“Be watchful! Be alert!
You do not know when the time will come.
It is like a man traveling abroad.
He leaves home and places his servants in charge,
each with his own work,
and orders the gatekeeper to be on the watch.
you do not know when the Lord of the house is coming,
whether in the evening, or at midnight,
or at cockcrow, or in the morning.
May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping.
What I say to you, I say to all: ‘Watch!’”
- “Watch!” The Catechism has a whole section on vigilance (CCC 2729-2733). It discusses vigilance in the context of “humble vigilance of heart” as the solution to problems of prayer.
- We should be vigilant in living our faith because Christ Our Lord counsels us to. We don’t know when we will meet him, whether at the moment of our death or at his glorious return.
- Our vigilance should be humble because we are weak.
- It is the heart most of all that must be vigilant, “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Mt 6:21).
Doctrine: Humble vigilance of heart in prayer
- We might assume that the most important watchfulness necessary to be ready to meet Christ is moral vigilance, which is avoiding all sin and doing good. This is true. However, if we pray always with a humble heart, it will become more and more difficult for us to carry on the double life of being a disciple but living as if we are not. This is one reason why humble vigilance in prayer is so important.
- One difficulty in prayer is getting distracted. Distraction reveals what we are really attached to. When we become aware that we have been distracted in prayer we can humbly turn back to the Lord due to “our preferential love for him” and “offer him our heart to be purified.” (CCC 2729)
- Another difficulty in prayer is fighting “the possessive and dominating self.” We need vigilance or “sobriety of heart” to keep our focus on Christ rather than ourselves. “When Jesus insists on vigilance, he always relates it to himself, to his coming on the last day and every day: ” (CCC 2730)
- A third difficulty for those who try to pray is dryness, when one feels he is getting nothing from prayer. This may require deeper conversion, if our emptiness is due to our own faults, or deeper faith, as we cling “faithfully to Jesus in his agony and in his tomb.” (CCC 2731)
- “The most common yet most hidden temptation against prayer is our lack of faith.” We don’t really believe in Christ or we don’t really believe that “apart from me, you can do nothing.” (CCC 2732)
- Presumption is a sin against hope in which “either man presumes upon his own capacities (hoping to be able to save himself without help from on high), or he presumes upon God’s almighty power or his mercy (hoping to obtain his forgiveness without conversion and glory without merit).” (2092)
- A final temptation against prayer is acedia. This is a kind of “depression due to lax ascetical practice, decreasing vigilance, carelessness of heart.” The humble of heart are not “surprised” by discouragement, either in prayer or in life, because they know how poor and weak they are. Rather, discouragement “leads them to trust more, to hold fast in constancy.” (2733)
Practical application: Being a better servant
- As we have seen, part of our life of prayer is the interplay between two realizations. One is the realization that on our own we are lost sinners. The other is the Gospel message that in Christ and like Christ we are here “to do your will, O God.”
- This interplay happens in moments of conversation with God, part of that humble vigilance of heart in prayer.
- One way we can foster this realization is by putting ourselves in today’s Gospel as one of the servants in the parable. The man leaves home on a journey and “places his servants in charge, each with his own work.” Christ has ascended to the Father and we are his disciples, given responsibilities.
- So we can each ask, What am I currently in charge of? What is my own work? What does being watchful mean in my regard?
- No one can make this discernment for us because the answer will vary based on our age, state in life, and occupation.
- For a high school student it might mean being hard-working, discovering one’s vocation, and living chastity.
- For a housewife with young children, the answer will be different than for a mother whose children have left home. It will be different for a person immersed in the world of work, or a retired person.
- But right away, it gives us something to talk with God about as we ask, How can I be a better servant in the work you have already given me to do?
- It also gives us the opening to ask an exciting question: Is there some new work you would like me to begin?
The Homiletic Directory recommends the following Catechism points and themes for the First Sunday of Advent:
- CCC 668-677, 769: the final tribulation and Christ’s return in glory
- CCC 451, 671, 1130, 1403, 2817: “Come, Lord Jesus!”
- CCC 35 God gives humanity grace to accept Revelation, welcome the Messiah
- CCC 827, 1431, 2677, 2839: acknowledging that we are sinners