Watch! Be alert! Return!
And so the Season of Advent begins with Jesus’ call to attention. Attention of the mind, heart, and soul.
With the word “Watch,” Jesus is obviously not referring to Timex, or Rolex, or Omega. They all make for nice watches, especially the Rolex. Our Lord’s use of the word “Watch” is not for the purpose of owning an instrument that tells time, but for the purpose of being prepared for a certain time, whatever the time of day happens to be. Jesus’ “Watch” is not, as he says in the Gospel, not directed at evening, or midnight, or cockcrow, or in the morning, or even lunchtime at Noon. That’s for the Timex’s, the Rolex’s, and the Omega’s. Jesus’ “Watch” is meant to direct our gaze at a Person. When is that Person returning? When are they showing up? It’s more than times of the day, or days of the month, or months of the year, or even years of the decade.
Our Lord’s purpose for the word “Watch” is that our souls not be caught sleeping. In this regard, the first thought that comes to mind in today’s religious thinking and in this time of religious indifference is the person who views Church as not being necessary for the salvation of their souls. Such a person would be a sleeping soul who has stopped “watching.” There’s no effort, no participation; it’s not necessary. I know I’m preaching to the choir. But I say it anyway because I’m sure we are all familiar with people we know, be it family, friends, fellow workers, who live this false testimony in their lives. They are presently sleeping. Their souls are slumbering, where “Watch” is a word, not for the coming of Christ, but for the Rolex Watch, looking for when the next event begins that draws their soul into an even deeper sleep. For the deeper the sleep, the greater the distance between God and us, where there is no watching.
Our Lord’s “Watch” is for him. And for him alone. Not a piece of metal with second, minute, and hour hands. Jesus’ “Watch,” when open to it, is a watching for his presence in our lives. And that simply cannot be underestimated in importance.
In order to recognize his appearance, Jesus then says “Be alert.” Being alert is for us to take on the purpose of this short season known as Advent. When you’ve been out driving, and your sitting at a light somewhere, be it Gold Star Blvd, or West Boylston St., or somewhere along Park Ave., and you’re in a small line of traffic (or a long line) where our vehicle is 2nd, 3rd, 4th, or further back in line, and the light changes from red to green, and the car in front of you doesn’t move… They’re too busy talking on the phone, or sending a text, or, God forbid, they’re having a medical emergency. And…you wait a few seconds, which seems like an eternity, you want to lay on the horn, and…finally, they start moving. What a relief! That’s putting it the nice way.
For myself, I count to three very quickly, and then I lay on the horn. UPS taught me well. Seconds count! But that driver in the vehicle in front of you (and it’s always them because we ourselves never do this!), they are not very alert for the return of the green light that means “Go.” The person was not sleeping; they were wide awake; but they were not anticipating the change from red to green.
Spiritually, being alert in regard to how Jesus uses this two-word phrase is to be aware of our surroundings. To not fall into traps set by the Devil. It is to be wise enough to see a danger for what it is. And to avoid it. Sin and slumber, along with texting while driving, weakens our being alert for Jesus Christ.
But what to do if we get slothful with our faith and soil the soul? Jesus says, “Return.” This word opens the door to the Season of Advent. The Season of Advent takes on for us this spiritual aspect of Lent; return to the Lord.
As Catholics, how do we do this? Returning to the Lord always starts with the undeserved grace that comes to us in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Which, by the way, our 2nd grade religious education class will be receiving next Saturday.
There are a couple of present spiritual concerns associated with the word “Return” as connected to our Lord, and us returning to him. First, is what I would call the danger of expanding time, where the Rolex watch goes on and on and on, and the person wearing it does nothing for the cleansing of their soul. I had someone say to me just this week, where the topic of Confession came up quickly in our conversation (it just popped up out of nowhere…Thank you Holy Spirit!) that she hadn’t been to Confession for 25 years. That was probably a conservative estimate. I said “I’m available right now!” After a chuckle or two, the conservative estimate of 25 years continues. But it’s not a joke.
Returning to the Lord is made whole through the grace and power of this Sacrament. I’m not saying it’s easy. But it’s necessary. It’s necessary in order to fully return to God’s banquet.
And second, the other danger associated with the word “Return” is the twisted thought that we have nothing to confess. “C’mon, Fr. Riley, start my canonization process right now! Tell Pope Francis to include me in the Communion of Saints even before I croak!” Well, such thinking proves beyond a reasonable doubt that pride is working is such a person’s heart.
Let none of us think we are sinless. That thought originates in the demon disguising himself as an angel of light. We are in need of “returning,” because we are all in need of constant conversion.
The 1st Sunday of Advent; “Watch,” not the metal kind on our hands, but the Divine Person who comes to us. “Be alert,” be ready for the light to change, and be alert for the Light of the World, Jesus Christ. And “Return;” come to the Sacrament of God’s grace and forgiveness. It sets the table for the Lord’s return to us.