Lord, why do you let us wander and harden our hearts, so that we fear you not? …Would that you might meet us doing right! (Isaiah 63:17, 64:4)
Seems as though the Lord Jesus used the image of the householder traveling abroad, and leaving his servants in charge–He used this image over and over again.
Two weeks ago, we encountered it in the Parable of the Talents: the master left the country, and gave his servants money to invest. Same image, or one very similar, in the Parable of the Unforgiving Steward, and the Parable of the Dishonest Steward, and of the Wicked Tenants, and of the Master’s Return from a Wedding, and of the Faithful vs. the Unfaithful Servant.
And at Holy Mass this Sunday, in chapter 13 of St. Mark’s gospel: A man travels abroad. Leaves home. Places his servants in charge, each with his own work. And the gatekeeper must watch for the master’s return.
So: Here we find ourselves, together on the earth, with control over things that do not properly belong to us. By right, the goods we have control over, they belong to our divine Master, the Creator. He has entrusted them to us, for temporary service. We exercise power over things in this world–but not ultimate power. A day will come when the true owner, the rightful master of all that we hold in trust–He will appear. He will expect to find things in a certain state.
And if they are not? If He arrives after midnight, and we lay asleep, with empty beer cans scattered all over the floor, and the tv still blaring, and we haven’t made sure the children brushed their teeth, and there are dirty dishes in the sink. If the master comes and finds a mess? As they say, there will be hell to pay. In this case, literally.
So the prayer of Isaiah suits us perfectly. Lord, please don’t let us harden our hearts! Keep them soft and supple, responsive to your influence. Keep us humble and dutiful. So that you might find us doing right, when you return in glory.
Indeed, the prayer of Isaiah makes a part of the Church’s prayer at every Holy Mass: Heavenly Father, we offer you this sacrifice of Your Son’s Body and Blood, which has reconciled us to You, as we patiently await His return in glory. Our celebration of the Mass together, faithfully, regularly–this is the key to our readiness to meet the Lord when He comes. The Mass provides us with the great test of our readiness, in fact. If my conscience is clear, having confessed all my sins to a priest, and I can praise God with a pure heart at Mass and go to Holy Communion–well, then I am ready to meet Him in the end. Because I am meeting Him right now in the Blessed Sacrament.
Now, what are the best things to do during December each year? Let’s see…
Max out my credit cards? Swill cheap party champagne? Elbow and hip-check as many people as possible at WalMart?
Skip Mass so that I can beat the crowds at Toys R Us? Curse all the innocent bystanders in my family while I try to put up my Christmas tree? Then prostrate myself on the couch and watch as much football as possible?
The prophet expressed the longing of our ancient forefathers. Lord, come to us! Straighten us out, so that we can stand ready to meet you. Rouse us! Because we know that you do awesome deeds for the people who wait for you.
To spend December waiting for God. Now, that is a challenge. Not rushing, not fussing, not primping, not decking, not partying, not spending, spending, spending. And not descending into a fantasy world, playing video games ad nauseum, or living for the empty promise of the mall Santy Clause, without hoping for Christ.
What if we keep Advent like John the Baptist kept it, and St. Joseph, and the Blessed Virgin? Quietly. Faithfully. Making December much more about the Bible than about shopping. Watching the sky, like the wise men, instead of watching tv. Waiting for God Himself to come, as He came to Bethlehem, long ago.
Something tells me that if we actually spent Holy Advent waiting for God, like the ancient Israelites did, we would do the following over the course of the month of December…
1. Go to Confession
2. Say the Rosary more
3. Think of things we could give away to people who need help
4. Lose a few pounds and feel more truly rested and awake
5. Spend more time in church, especially from 4:00 to 5:00 pm on Sundays, for Vespers and Benediction (in Martinsville).
6. Wind up having the most truly merry Christmas we have ever had.