FEASTING ON THE WORD
"If you meditate on the Scriptures it will appear to you in its brilliant splendor." ―St. Pio of Pietrelcina
First Sunday of Advent (B)
Isaiah 63:16B-17, 19B; 64:2-7 | Psalm 80:2-3, 15-16, 18-19 | 1 Corinthians 1:3-9 | Mark 13:33-37
Christmas time is here and once again we are all looking forward to it. Heavy traffic is back, along with overcrowded shopping areas, which are typical during the Christmas season. The radio airwaves are filled with Christmas songs both old and new. Prominently displaying an Advent wreath in the sanctuary makes the liturgical season of Advent appear to be the countdown to Christmas. However, there is nothing “Christmasy” about the readings for the First Sunday of Advent. Instead, the readings call us to direct our attention to the future, to Christ’s return or at least at the end of our personal time here on earth.
It is easy to see God's hand in the splendor of a sunset or the glory of a mountaintop. But we wonder where God is when we are in our most difficult times. Once I was sitting in a hospital room in Dasmariñas City having a conversation with my friend whose devout mother got brain cancer. She was deeply upset and agitated. She dried her eyes and told me, “I struggle believing this is all part of God’s wonderful plan. Why does mom have to suffer? She devoted most of her life serving God." "Why not?" I replied. "People like her are the only ones who can take it." The real question is not "Where does suffering come from?" but "What shall I do with suffering?"
The first reading was written after the Israelites returned from exile and resettled in Judah. Their mood demonstrates a sense of abandonment. They were discouraged by widespread poverty, dissension among their leaders, and the overwhelming task of rebuilding the ruins. This prayer was composed in the name of a people who are longing for God's action. Where is the God for whom they long? They anxiously await the coming of God as redeemer. They reflect on their sinfulness and the problems they have experienced since being thrown out of their land. Isaiah challenges the Israelites to persevere at their task. With God’s help, we are also being reminded to take careful, mindful steps to sow the seeds of the Kingdom of God in our lives and world.
The great violinist, Niccolò Paganini, willed his marvelous violin to Genoa — his birthplace — but only on condition that the instrument will never be played again. It was an unfortunate condition, for it is an unusual feature of wood that as long as it is used and handled, it shows little wear. As soon as it is discarded, it begins to decay. The Paganini violin, in its beautiful case, is now valueless except as a relic. Woodworms and beetles have eaten away its wood. This moldering instrument is a reminder that a life withdrawn from all service to others loses its meaning.
In our Second Reading, St. Paul addresses the faith community at Corinth who have just embraced Christianity with ardor. The text is the opening of the letter that is his response to a church in crisis. They were competing with one another for the most evident signs of the spirit or "charismatic gifts". He clarified with them that whatever knowledge that they have or whatever abilities that they possess have been given to them by God to use for the edification of the church. He pointed out that the most essential gift for their salvation is perseverance in faith. He was urging them to be faithful, continue to develop the gifts that they have received, because the Lord is going to return very soon.
Amalia was explaining, to her little girl Genna, the death of her father. She said: “God has sent for your father and will send for us, but I do not know just when.” Finally, the little girl said: “If we do not know just when God is going to send for us, do you not think we had better pack up and get ready to go? God might send when we are not ready.”
Do you already have Sunlife Insurance? What about health insurance? Do you have smoke and fire detectors? Do you wear a seat belt when you are in a car? There are so many ways that we are “watchful and ready” for things in this life that we hope and pray will never happen. The sad reality is that the COVID-19 crisis revealed that we were woefully unprepared to handle a pandemic, despite all the investment to be secure and prepared, the crisis has revealed all our weaknesses, asking us to re-imagine what it means to be secure and prepared. Today’s Gospel repeats two ideas. First, no one but God knows the time of the end. Second, the proper response of the faithful disciple is hope and vigilance. Jesus urges us to be watchful and ready. We are to live as if the Master will return momentarily. If we live that way we will never be caught off guard. Only those who persevere in watching will be saved. My dear brothers and sisters, it’s Advent. Jesus is coming. It’s not only a time to prepare for the coming of Christmas, but it’s also a time to prepare for that Great Coming of Jesus Christ at the End of Days.
Jeff Jacinto, PhD, DHum