Christ the King Catholic Church
Wake up calls... There are moments in all of our lives in which we receive wake up calls. Something happens that forces us to re-think and re-evaluate our lives. September 11th was a wake-up call for us as Americans. We had to re-valuate our sense of security. People who have recovered from a life-threatening illness speak of that illness as a wake-up call that causes them to re-evaluate their priorities. A failing grade on a test paper is a wake-up call for a student who hasn't been taking his or her studies seriously enough.
Advent, this season of grace we enter this weekend, is meant to be a wake-up call for all of us - a time to rethink our lives and our priorities.
The word 'Advent' is from the Latin word for 'coming'. We celebrate the coming of Jesus. For most people today, Advent is a time to prepare for Christmas and for the celebration of Jesus' first coming a little over 2000 years ago. After centuries of waiting, in the fullness of time, Jesus, the promised Messiah, was born. We will remember and celebrate that birth with solemnity and joy in just a few short weeks now.
But in the mind of the Church, the coming of Jesus that Advent celebrates is Jesus' Second Coming. After humankind's original fall from grace, God promised to send a Savior, a Messiah. Faithful to that promise, Jesus slipped into human history almost unnoticed in a little town called Bethlehem. He fulfilled his mission to reconcile us to God and to one another on the cross. Before ascending into heaven, he promised that he would return again. We have been waiting a long time. At least from our human perspective, 2000 years is a long time. Scripture tells us that a thousand years is like a single day to God, but we humans get drowsy, we get careless, we get forgetful. And so, each year the Church gives us a wake-up call and that wake-up call is Advent. The Jesus who once came has promised to come again. We look forward in joyful hope, at least in theory, to that Second Coming. It's a time to put things right in our lives while there is still time. Whether that Second Coming will be the moment of our death or the actual return of Jesus at the end of time, no one ofus knows. Jesus, in today's Gospel, tells us that that coming, like Jesus' first coming, will be at a time we least expect. And
so, we must be prepared. Advent is a wake-up call for all of us who have become drowsy, or careless or forgetful. We might be tempted to press the snooze button on this alarm clock, but we would do it at our own peril. No one of us knows if this will be our last Advent or not.
"Memento Mori" is a Latin phrase that is translated, "Remember, you will die." The Church has used it throughout history in art and literature as a reminder to keep in mind the 'last things' - death, judgement, heaven, hell and purgatory. In medieval sacred art skulls were often times included in paintings as a gentle reminder of the fact that we will all die.
Some years ago, Masterpiece Theatre made a movie of Muriel Spark's novel by that name, "Memento Mori." In that novel an elderly group of English aristocrats each receive a telephone call in which the voice on the line simply says, '"Remember, you will die."
Each person who receives that stark message reacts in a different way. The first to receive the call is a very wealthy, self-centered woman. When the call comes, she is utterly shocked. She never even entertained the thought that her perfect, self contained world might one day come to an end. Her arrogant fa9ade crumbles, and she is consumed by fear and dies of fright.
Next in line an elderly gentleman receives the same call with the same message. He decides to go for broke and takes a young woman as his wife - his fourth.
Unfortunately, it is too much for his heart, and he, too, dies.
A third person receives the call and considers it a prank and thinks no more about it and goes on as if he had never received the call.
The last woman in the story who receives the call, sincerely thanks the caller. "I'm so glad you called," she says. "You know at my age one forgets so many things.
It's kind of you to remind me of this most important fact." And with that, she sets healing old wounds, forgiving old enemies, reaching out to family and friends and putting aside all that really doesn't matter. She got the message. That telephone call was her wake-up call and she re-evaluated everything in light of that call.
This is exactly what Advent is meant to do for all of us. We begin a new Church Year today and the Church invites us to re-evaluate everything in our lives in light of Jesus' return,
People react differently to this wake-up call.
For some it is a threat, a dreaded threat. I remember a bumper sticker that I used to see that said, "Jesus is coming, and boy is he mad!" A lot of preachers preach about Jesus' return as something to fear and dread. And truth be told, ifwe have a lot of unfinished business in our lives, there may be reason for fear and dread.
Others, probably the majority of people today, simply ignore this wake-up call. We may go about our lives as if we had never received the call or thinking that we will have lots of opportunities in the future to put things right in our lives - and
push the snooze button Death and the last things are simply not on the radar screen of our lives.
And for some, the Day of the Lord and the return of Jesus is welcome news something to look forward to, to prepare for, to long for, to pray for, because the Jesus who will return loves us with love beyond all telling and has promised us that the best is yet to come. We have been promised a future beyond all imagining.
Different reactions to the same message.
Obviously, the Church sees the last as the best reaction. Today's Gospel and the Season of Advent are welcome news. Life as we know it will end. It is a fact.
Whether that end is our own death or the end of time when Jesus returns, we do not know. But memento mori-the end will come for each ofus.
Advent is a wake-up call. A time to re-evaluate our lives - our priorities. What are the things that really matter? How we respond to the wake-up call that is Advent is the result of a lifetime of habits. Some will be threatened. Some will ignore. Some will respond.
Advent is a season of grace. It is a time to wake-up to the preciousness of life, cherishing the gift that has been given to each of us and living each moment generously and single-mindedly, as if it were our only moment.
If we live our lives, each day, in light of our death, we will be ready for the 'Day of the Lord', whenever it may come. May we use this season of grace to put things right in our lives as we wait in joyful hope for Jesus' return. This Advent each parish family is asked to spend an hour in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament.
This would be a perfect time to re-examine priorities, discover relationships that need to be strengthened and abandon old habits.
May we welcome this season of grace as the gift that it is and use it not only to prepare for Christmas, but also to prepare for the Day of the Lord-Jesus' Second Coming, whenever it may be.
We greet one another with the words, "See you at Mass!" The early Christians greeted one another with the Aramaic word, "Maranatha - Come, Lord Jesus, come!" Not a bad greeting!