Do not worry
1st Sunday of Advent. Cycle C

Doug McManaman
Reproduced with Permission

"Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life." Those who do not believe, who really do not believe that God is in control, and who do not believe that this world is passing away and that our purpose in life is to come to know God, to love God, and to serve God, and to be united to Him in eternity, are those who live for this world. These are people who allow their hearts to be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this world.

Because they do not believe, they do not know the joy of heaven, a joy that ought to begin here, in this life. The human heart has an infinite hunger for God, because it was created by God and for God. As St. Augustine said long ago on the first page of his Confessions: "O Lord, you made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in thee."

Those who do not believe still have this hunger, and so they have to try to satisfy it, which is why they turn to dissipation, or self-indulgence. Without faith, we have no trust in God, we do not trust that our lives are completely in his hands, and when we do not trust, we worry. When that happens, our entire life is soon ordered towards ourselves, towards maintaining a pleasurable and comfortable standard of living. That becomes our main purpose in life, and we worry about everything that threatens it. But the closer we get to God, the deeper our prayer life becomes, the less we worry, and general anxiety decreases.

In this gospel, Christ calls us to be alert at all times, because the end will come like a trap, like a thief in the night. Stay awake, he says. Do not worry about what you are to eat and to drink, or the clothes you are going to wear. Rather, stay awake. What does it mean to stay awake? It means to "not sleep". Of course, he does not mean that literally. Sleep, however, resembles death. We lie down, our eyes are closed, we are not conscious. To sleep spiritually is to be spiritually dead, without the grace of God. Instead of living and working in the Lord's vineyard, doing His will, allowing ourselves to be used by God so that we can be a part of the building up of His kingdom, which He is building, we are asleep, not part of that work, but part of the world's labour, which is vanity and a "chasing after wind". As the psalm says: "If the Lord does not build the house, in vain do the builders labour."

This gospel tells us that this world is coming to an end. Last Sunday we celebrated the feast of Christ the King, and he said "My kingdom is not of this world". This gospel points out that the kingdom of God is not some kind of Utopia that we are called to establish here. Christ is going to usher in the new heaven and the new earth, not us. What we have to do is surrender our lives to Him and allow ourselves to be used by God, in ways that we may not fully understand. But God is in control, God has all power, and this world is passing away, but "my words", says Jesus, will never pass away, and his kingdom will have no end.

Our life here is a preparation for that kingdom, and we prepare by cultivating a very devoted prayer life, by feeding on the word of God, that is, by reading and studying Scripture, by growing in a real devotion to the Eucharist, by regular Confession, and by committing to works of charity. Our lives have to be devoted to loving and serving Christ in those who are poor, who are sick, who are weak, who are vulnerable to being misled, like the young. We have to commit to the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. That's the kind of life that characterizes believers.

What are the corporal works of mercy? To feed the hungry, to give drink to the thirsty, to clothe the naked, to visit the imprisoned, to shelter the homeless, to visit the sick, and to bury the dead.

Then there are the spiritual works of mercy: to instruct the ignorant, to admonish the sinner, to counsel the doubtful, to comfort the sorrowful, to bear wrongs patiently, to forgive all injuries, to pray for the living and the dead.

What each of us must do is to think about how we can tailor these works to our own life situation. How can I feed the hungry and clothe the naked? How can I help the homeless? How am I called to visit the sick? This is going to be different for a teenager than it is for someone retired. Different for someone with a moderate income than for a person blessed with great financial success. Each person has to pray and listen very carefully and remain open to the movement of divine grace, fear nothing, and allow God to show you the way.

The spiritual works of mercy should be carefully pondered because all of us are capable of these. I'd like to focus on only a few. First, instruct the ignorant. All of us are called, in one way or another, to instruct the ignorant. That might be our own children. Teach them the faith. Behind so many of the great saints is a good parent, or two good parents, who diligently taught the faith to their children. As a little boy, Pope John Paul II would, after waking up in the middle of the night, often see his father on his knees praying before a crucifix. That sight had a tremendous impact on him. If you live the faith and teach the faith, you are having mercy on generations of people too many to count.

If you are a school teacher, you can study the faith, learn it, be faithful to it, and teach the kids in your classroom. And keep in mind that there is no greater evil than corrupting the minds of the young, sowing seeds of dissent, scandalizing them, which causes incalculable damage for generations to come. But if you are faithful, you are having mercy on generations of people too many to count.

The second work of mercy is to admonish the sinner. Warn him or her! Be bold, like St. Paul! We have been misled by this culture in to believing that absolute tolerance is a virtue, and that tolerating the sins of others is loving. But the Lord says in Ezekiel that if we fail to warn the sinner, we will be held responsible for his death. "If I tell the wicked man that he shall surely die, and you do not speak out to dissuade the wicked man from his way, he, the wicked man, shall die for his guilt, but I will hold you responsible for his death. But if you warn the wicked man, trying to turn him from his way, and he refuses to turn from his way, he shall die for his guilt, but you shall save yourself" (33, 1-9).

To forgive all injuries is a spiritual work of mercy. There is so much suffering in this world, so much suffering in our own cities. And what I discover more and more is that at the root of this suffering, its root cause in so many cases, is the decision not to forgive injuries. So many people harbour resentment, and these resentments are deep. It is this decision that eventually destroys marriages, and destroyed marriages hurt kids, and hurt kids cannot learn because they are too emotionally distracted. This leads to inordinate self-preoccupation, as well as academic failure, anxiety, which in turn begets anger, which delays emotional development, and causes physical illness. Emotional immaturity prevents young people from being able to take on the responsibilities of married life, which leads to the continuation of the cycle of marital and family break-up.

But when we forgive others, we "give", as the word indicates. We give ourselves to the offender, who injured us beforehand. We offer ourselves to be injured. We "give them it", the injury, that is. And what we are doing is sharing in Christ's offering of himself on the cross for humanity. We enter into his light, the light of his cross, and as we enter we bring with us the darkness of the sins that have injured us, and Christ's light dispels the darkness, frees us from the darkness of the enemy who seeks to destroy us. To forgive another is to pray for another with our entire body, and it is a tremendously powerful prayer. Through forgiveness, we do so much to lessen the misery and suffering in this world. To refuse it is to stay in the dark.

This Advent Season let us commit ourselves to works of mercy. If we do, we will find life, because we will find Christ, who chooses for his dwelling the weakest, poorest, lowliest of human beings, those to whom the world does not care to pay any attention. If we begin to pay attention to them, we will find Christ, we will find life, and our lives will be lit up by a light that shines in the darkness. Amen.