THE WAY OF THE PILGRIM; THE WAY OF HOPEFUL WAITING
Catholic Homily/Sunday Liturgical Reflections
1st Sunday of Advent - Year B
November 30, 2008
Readings: Is 63:16b-17, 19b; 64:2-7 / 1Cor 1:3-9 / Mk 13:33-37
Waiting is not one of the virtues of postmodern women and men of our times. Perhaps quickness of response to communication is, but not waiting. We want instant results. We want instant information. At the press of a SEND button, through the wonders of WAP, we have instant access to info about entertainment, about the weather, and a whole lot more.
That may well be one of the reasons why the telenovela, the teleserie, the protracted soap operas of our times attract so many viewers. They have taken the place of the more difficult discipline of reading full-blown novels. Reading is no longer one of the more popular pastimes among our people. Sitting it out on a prolonged basis, allowing the mind to be taken up and transported to a different world, is something we would rather not do. We want to do multi-tasking. We want to watch and still be up and about, doing other things while keeping oneself entertained. We wait, but we also cannot wait. We watch passively, and yet we also want to be active in other less-focused ways, like poring lightly over glossy magazines that seem to be increasing by the day.
One thing seems clear: we do things that require little focus and less intense concentration. We do many things, but none of them really well enough to merit an excellent rating. Students do their homework with music blaring, with cell phone on the ready, oftentimes even with the TV on. Those who are better equipped would most likely have the computer on all the time. Nowadays, it would not be rare to see students who could engage in internet chat and still claim they are doing school work.
Waiting is a focused activity, for sure. This may well explain its unpopularity.
The Good News, however, is never dependent on current fads and trends. Year after year, the Church, during Advent, counsels us to reflect on the idea of waiting… a special kind of waiting, to be sure. It is a type of waiting which is just as active as the type young people, especially in our days, do. It is active waiting. But it is active not in the sense of multi-tasking, or in the sense of one spreading himself thinly all over the place, lacking in focus and sufficient attention in what one does. It is focused waiting, attentive waiting, a waiting in faith, and hope, a waiting suffused with longing, with a certain conviction that what one is waiting for already has come and happened at least in germ.
This is the essence of Advent waiting. We wait for what has come. Salvation has dawned upon us. But we still wait with eager longing for the full consummation of that which has been given to us. Advent thus refers to the fact that as Christians, we live in the in-between time of Jesus’ triumph over sin and death, and his yet-to-be-fulfilled return at the end-time. The fact that we live in a “frontier-world” as it were, makes us temporary sojourners in this present time. We are a people on the move, a people in pilgrimage, a people in perpetual journey. We are an ever-moving people. We, too, are a people ever hoping. With all due respect to St. Augustine, I suggest a re-wording of what he said. We are not just an Easter people. We are also an Advent people, and Maranatha is one of our songs, in addition to Alleluia.
The hope of a people in pilgrimage is evident in Isaiah’s prayerful words begging the Lord for help so that they might not stray from His ways: “Why do you let us wander, O Lord, from your ways, and harden our hearts so that we fear you not?…O that you would rend the heavens and come down, with the mountains quaking before you, while you wrought awesome deeds for those who wait for him.”
The responsorial psalm, for its part, confirms this prayer and wish to be brought back to the right path, to the way of the pilgrim, the way that leads to salvation. Again, it evokes the idea of going through the right way: “Lord, make us turn to you; let us see your face and we shall be saved.” This is further deepened by the verse before the Gospel: “Show us, Lord, your love; and grant us your salvation.”
A people on the move, a people in pilgrimage cannot afford to lose precious little time in too much sleep. A people on the watch is a people awake and mindful. They are always ready to hit the road, to be on their way at short notice. They are alert for the changing conditions of weather, of the times. They have a very keen sense of proper timing. They know when to start out early, and when to start out late.
Such is evoked by the words of the Lord: “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 servant in charge, each with his own work, and orders the gatekeeper to be on the watch. Watch, therefore; 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!’”
Advent is a time for us to learn the important lesson of waiting. This is the way of all pilgrims; the way of sojourners like we all are. Simone Weil rightly writes that “waiting patiently in expectation is the foundation of the spiritual life.” Waiting smacks of hope, no ordinary hope that is nothing more than wishful thinking, but a hope that already claims as its own what is for the meantime (in this in-between time of the Church) only given in germ. This is how this Mass on this first Sunday of Advent ends. After communion, we join the whole Church in prayer: “Father, may our communion teach us to love heaven. May its promise and hope guide our way on earth. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.”