How many times have we heard today’s Scripture? Are we not all familiar with Advent and its meaning? We are preparing for the coming of Christ so as to remember and celebrate his birth at Bethlehem and be ready for his coming at the end of time as heralded in today’s gospel, right? All true! But what difference will it make in our lives?
One of the many blessings in my life has been as a facilitator for the parish Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA). As I struggled to find ways to put our faith into words understandable to women and men seeking to join our faith community, I was struck by the incredible claims we make about God and God’s involvement in our lives. At times I wondered how seriously I and other Christians take those claims. In a similar vein, one New Year’s Day, the homilist, inspired by the reading from Paul’s letter to the Galatians, posed the question, “If we are heirs with Christ, why don’t we act like it?” Good question! My RCIA experience and the homilist’s question have led me to wonder if we, as Christians, are in denial about Jesus Christ. Denial, as you know, is a defense mechanism which allows the user to keep a threatening truth at a distance from the core of who they believe themselves to be. The denial I am suggesting is not one that negates the reality of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection and its good news for us, but the more subtle form that fails to see the implications for re-ordering our consciousness and our lives according to those beliefs. The very idea that God, the totally, awesome Other, the creator of all that is, desires to be involved in my life, in our lives, is intimidating. Like Peter, we know our finitude and unworthiness.
Sunday’s readings are filled with hope and promise. In light of this, our gospel urges us to prepare for Christ’s coming in power and great glory by cautioning against negative behaviors: carousing, drunkenness, and anxieties, causes of drowsiness of heart. A drowsy heart is one that fails to pump the necessary life blood through the body, ultimately causing heart failure and death. Memory is our life blood! Memory is essential to our living as human persons, keeping in awareness who we are and whose we are. It is through remembering our story as disciples of Jesus Christ that we keep the blood flowing and ward off inattentiveness and drowsiness.
I’d like to suggest an Advent practice that is not too usual but one in keeping with these reflections. During these next twenty-five days of Advent, why not take a stroll down memory lane, the memory lane of God’s involvement in human history? Before beginning our journey, we need to ask God for the gift of seeing ourselves as God sees us. Anchored in this perspective, we’ll find no need to defend against the gift of God’s love. In other words, our preparation will involve a dismantling of the denial that prevents the truth of God’s immense love and generosity from entering into and transforming our consciousness and then our actions.
The second step is to take to heart the good news that Jesus brought, to allow his words and message to become our life blood. The church will present us with readings that focus on God’s actions in history. Before we ask, “What is God asking of me through God’s word?” let us ask “Who is this God?” and spend some time in silence waiting for God’s answer.
Another way to walk memory lane would be to take the prayer that Jesus gave us (the Lord’s Prayer) and ponder on each of its petitions and their implications. For example, Jesus tells us that God’s relationship to us is like that of parent. Do I believe and act out of the truth that God is parent, not monarch, king or judge, and that God is gently and intimately involved in my life, desiring that I prosper?
May our Advent journey of uncovering the implications of our faith bring us to a new birth in Jesus Christ.
–Sister Jean Flannelly, SC
After more than 25 years preparing men and women for ordained and lay ministry in the Church, Sister Jean currently serves as Consultant for Mission at the College of Mount Saint Vincent in Riverdale, NY. She also ministers in adult spirituality and adult faith formation through workshops and spiritual direction.