As we begin the season of Advent, we notice the days growing shorter. For many, the air is turning chillier too. We likely will start spending more time at home as well — not just to enjoy light and warmth, but also to curtail the spread of COVID-19.
To be “cooped up” at home, as we have already experienced during this pandemic, presents certain challenges to our patience and mental health. But as some have pointed out, staying home also presents certain opportunities, particularly during Advent.
“What if we were able to take advantage of this shuttering of our busy lives to observe Advent as our church has always encouraged us to do: a time of reflection, a time of quieting, a time of stillness, to make room for Christ in our daily lives?” asked Bishop W. Shawn McKnight of Jefferson City, Missouri, in a message on the diocesan website.
Interestingly, our proper response to the worsening pandemic this fall neatly parallels our proper experience of Advent. Both should lead us to focus more on God. Both should make us more aware of our mortality.
Avoiding the transmission of coronavirus requires some precautions, health experts have warned. So, we stay at home more. We wash our hands more thoroughly. We practice social distancing. We wear facemasks. We are advised to avoid situations that put ourselves or others at higher risk.
In a word, we are advised to be vigilant against coronavirus.
In the Gospel for the First Sunday of Advent (Mk 13:33-37), Christ also cautions vigilance as we anticipate “the Lord of the house” at his Second Coming. “Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come … May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping!”
The reference here is to remaining faithful and prayerful, avoiding even the “near occasion of sin,” as one formula for the Act of Contrition states. God is merciful, but to presume on his mercy and thereby become lax in our pursuit of holiness is a sin in itself. We must be prepared for his return — or our own death, at which moment we will face his judgment — at all times. “Would that you might meet us doing right, that we were mindful of you in our ways!” writes the prophet Isaiah in our first reading (Is 63:16b-17, 19b, 64:2-7).
Is such vigilance possible? Can we remain so faithful in the face of so many challenges? Yes, says St. Paul in our second reading, if we remember what we have been taught and rely upon God’s grace for our strength. “He will keep you firm to the end,” Paul writes, “irreproachable on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 1:3-9).
And the Psalmist summarizes our Advent call: “Lord, make us turn to you” (Ps 80:2-3, 15-16 18-19). We turn to him in prayer, and we turn to him to seek his grace in his sacraments, in penance and the Eucharist.
With the devil lurking about seeking to draw us away from Christ and our path to heaven, the stakes could not be higher: it is a life-or-death struggle on an eternal scale.
We must remain vigilant, lest we be caught asleep.
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