Thursday, November 26, 2009

The End Is Near (2009-11-29, Advent)

This is my homily for Nov. 29, 2009, First Sunday of Advent. Feel free to respond with comments. View the Mass readings at:

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In the Gospel, Jesus tells his disciples and us, “Be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent and to stand before the Son of Man.” (Luke 21:34-36)

“Be vigilant at all times … “

Vigilance means readiness and watchfulness, an attitude often demonstrated not only by FDU Public Safety (our neighbors next door) but also by FDU teachers who watch over you..and even our own mothers and fathers.

Vigilance is also our call everyday. This is a 911 call in the Gospel.

Vigilance is the message for this first Sunday of Advent. Why is vigilance important? Is it because life and death are on the horizon in final exams, papers, and grades?

That’s why they are called deadlines, right?

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November 29 is the first of 4 Sundays of Advent, our period of prayer and meditation before Christmas. And, this week and next week, we reflect on the fact that Christ – who has already come into the world – will come again at the end of time. It is a deadline, a spiritual deadline.

Later in Advent – on the 3rd and 4th Sundays – i.e., December 13 and 20 - it is traditional to focus more on the coming of the Christ child and how we are to welcome him, not only on Christmas but every day.

The Second Coming is our focus this week and next week.

We read passages this Sunday from the Bible about the end of time, passages with special visual effects – roaring of waves, of oceans, earthquake, famine and the dangers lurking in the moon … dangers that predict the end of time. The moon – the full moon – somehow always gets blamed for this more than anything else.

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We don’t know when the end of all time is.

We do know, however, when the end of academic time is – December 23, 2009. What we pray for – before and after finals – is that we will have intelligence, strength, wisdom… We pray for something that no GPA can measure.

What we pray for – before and after the end of time – is also our salvation with God, we pray for something not measurable, something infinite – eternal life.

Advent is our time for renewed vigilance.

In the deadlines of a psychology final or English-literature paper, we experience something both communal and individual.

That is, our learning – our academic pursuits – are shared endeavors. We are meant to learn from and help each other.

On the other hand, learning and study is also intensely personal. Only you can write your paper, review your notes, answer the questions.

This feeling of pressure can make the darkness outside – the darkness of winter – seem even more ominous. More like the end of time.

We are not on this academic or spiritual journey alone.

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As individuals, we are called to pray for strength and to pray for each other. And, Advent is a good time to renew our commitment to prayer. In the morning give thanks to God for the new day and ask for strength to turn off the alarm as soon as it goes off. This is a real sacrifice we can make to meet the new day.

In the evening, examine your day, ask God for patience, for rest, and strength to do it all over again.

Coming to pray also reminds us that our answers and sentences and equations are not purely a result of personal effort. Prayer – in meditation / contemplation – reminds us that our intellect is a gift of God.

Coming to pray is good for our humility. I don’t mean humiliation but just a sense of gratitude not for what we do but for who we are.

We came to FDU not to obtain intelligence and and wisdom but to nurture what God has already bestowed on us. Coming to pray brings us closer to the one who bestowed this gift.

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We believe that God is here with us … in this chapel …and also in our rooms, in the classroom, everywhere helping us.

Consider what we do before hearing the Gospel. It is customary to make the sign of Cross – on our head, on lips, and on our heart. May the words of the Gospel be on our mind, lips and heart.

May God who is all loving – and all knowing and all wisdom – be with us at this time in what we think about, in what we search for, and in what we feel.

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We pray because we are going to be tested. This is not only in Fall 2009 but in the future also .. in challenges we have at home, in our family, our community.

Jesus says to be vigilant at all times. This is not only for excellent grades. This is also vigilance so that we will survive heartbreak and sorrow.

In the ancient reading of this Gospel, people read and heard these words about vigilance as a message of consolation from the Lord.

He offered this message because the Jewish community and Jewish/Christian community suffered the loss of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 A.D. The Roman army invaded the city and their siege caused a fire which destroyed the Temple.

And, this was a horrific deadline.

The Temple symbolized the Promise Land and God’s help. Losing it meant losing the center of their lives. It was heartbreaking…

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We are also urged to be vigilant during times of heartbreak and sorrow … due to death, illness, the end of a relationship.

Vigilance is the message because the end is near. The end of the semester? Yes, but also the end of life for which we have no academic calendar from the President and Dean.

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The end is near. Accepting Christ’s commands to love each other – and to sacrifice – reminds us to accept that he is our end and our beginning. That Christ is our Omega and our Alpha.

So, we accept the end. We accept that Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again. We accept even that we will die.

But, more importantly, we accept the death of our selfishness, the death of our sinfulness, the death of agendas. And, when we die to ourselves in this way, we make room for the Holy Spirit and room for each other.

Remember – at this end of academic time – to pray for those who have helped you along. Also, pray for those who have hurt you. These are prayers that may not immediately bring someone back to us. But, they are prayers that will change us and make us more vigilant to what God is offering us. For example, God may be offering us a new relationship or friendship where a previous one has ended. Be vigilant.

It can be a great challenge to offer this prayer. We may not want to pray for something new especially if we were very happy with something we used to have. But when we do, we give our lives for the sake of the other.

This is death and new life.

Dying in this sense, we make room for Jesus Christ and his Second Coming. We become vigilant as we live and we may room for new life in Christ. [END]

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