Fr. John Denburger, OCSO
1st Sunday of Advent
Isaiah 2: 1 – 5; Ps 122; Romans 13: 11 – 14; Matthew 24: 37 – 44
There is no such thing as an effortless life, a life without duties, obligations, needs.
We know from experience that marriages, being parents, friendships, religious vocations do not happen by magic, by some kind of automatic dynamism. There must a giving of oneself, of expending energy, and surely a desire to make it work. The same is true when it comes to our Catholic faith, to our living our belief in God – grace is not magic and growth in belief demands our cooperation with God’s gracious love.
The readings for this Mass present calls to action, to make an effort, to move along – Isaiah proclaims, “Come, let us climb the Lord’s mountain” and “let us walk in the light of the Lord!” St. Paul follows suit: “Let us throw off the works of darkness…let us conduct ourselves properly as in the day…But put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the desires of the flesh.” Clearly, all these cannot be dismissed as pious entreaties, take it or leave it – St. Matthew seems to shout at us: “Therefore, stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come…So, you must also be prepared.” We cannot miss the message that being a Catholic, living as a Christian makes demands and in living these demands, always by God’s grace, gives meaning to our lives – a meaning that is very precious, a reason to not just exist but truly live – living in Christ.
We do find some meaning in life through our interests, our relationships, etc. but the most important, the most necessary, the most life giving is, of course, living in relationship, in communion with our God – this is what the life of faith is about – having a meaning in life that goes beyond life.
In our culture, the culture of death – Pope St. John Paul’s phrase – there are many who live without a really deep, life-giving meaning. How often in the news we are made aware of the suicides – even among the young; people who have despaired, who have found no reason to go on, who sadly discover that what the culture offers are merely band aids and nothing more.
To truly “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the desires of the flesh” calls for a motivation, a lived desire, it calls for a life with a special meaning.
Where can I, you find this meaning, this important sense? The Lord Himself gives us the way. The disciples have been fishing all night and caught nothing and Jesus sees their frustration so He said to Simon, “Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch” and so they did. There is always more to the Gospel than what we first hear or read. This charge is addressed to us: “Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch” – but has nothing to do with fishing – the deep is the Word of God and the net is my, your desire to personally hear and be touched by the truth – it is this truth that gives meaning, motivation to our lives in following Christ. But you/I have to take the time to really listen, pray, accept – it is not magic. If we take no time, then, in reality, we have no desire!
In lowering my net through prayer, through desire what might I catch – I might come to realize for the first time or the second or the third the enormous love God has more me as I am. A love that was expressed with effort, with steadfastness, with pain. The infant Jesus grew into a man with a most sacred mission – to be our salvation – He met tremendous odds: hatred, misunderstanding, betrayal, plots against His life and finally, He suffered a horrendous death of excruciating pain for our salvation, for love of us. Jesus is truly our Tremendous Lover. Salvation, yours/mine, did not come easily by any means – the crucifix in this church proclaims this profoundly.
You might be familiar with a book “Man’s Search for Meaning” written from the experience in a Nazi concentration camp. The author, a Jewish psychiatrist, Viktor Frankl, imprisoned in this place of death, was losing his will to live – there was no hope, no future. One spring day he noticed a sapling in the camp beginning to blossom. The simple sight of new life in this terrible place gave him hope and he lived to tell his experience. If the tree could bud, he could continue on.
Today, in this Mass we see in faith the presence of the Lord Jesus in a piece of unleavened bread not much bigger than the bud on the tree Frankl saw. But for you and I, we not only see but have the privilege of receiving the Lord Jesus Christ, the way, the truth and the life – the source of all our meaning in this life and beyond. We leave this church with meaning, purpose confirmed and strengthened – always people of hope, of faith in our God – surely, during this holy season of Advent we can praise God in gratitude because our net is full!