Fr Martin Pender
It is not enough that we mark our time with a calendar year. In addition, the Church insists that we need an annual cycle called the Liturgical Year, which we begin today, the first Sunday of Advent. Why? Because as Christians, we tell time in a way that differs from the calculations of the world around us. While we have good reason to move with the rest when it comes to marking the motion of the earth around the sun and so on, it is altogether right that we remind the world that it is “out of sync”, that the time-frame of our lives is more than just the motions of the solar system. The Big Picture for us is the place where we fit into the full story of creation and redemption, especially as we have come to know that story in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
Unfortunately, our present age is an age of Apostasy, the likes of which the Christian Church has never experienced at any other stage in its history. We are living through a tragedy, a tragedy that many within the Church are not even aware of. For example, in its attempt to de-Christianise the world, the world of Academia has now completely forced through that even time itself, as it is measured today, should not even reflect the reality of Christ, the Lord of Time itself. In universities, on TV-programmes and in many printed books, we no longer heard or see “BC”, (before Christ,) or “AD”, Anno Domini (the year of the Lord). Instead, we are confronted with “BCE” (Before the Common Era) and “CE” (The Common Era). The Lord of Time is reduced to being only a vague shadow in the history of the uneducated and underdeveloped lives of our primitive ancestors! This is the great tragedy of our time, a time without God and a time where every trace of Christian heritage is being annihilated.
This Advent, all Christians need to wake up to the present reality and stop pretending that everything is rosy in the garden. All of us need to see that traditional historical Catholic approaches are no longer sufficient or suited in the present age. Catholic schools need to have more than just a “Catholic Ethos” – whatever that means. Catholic families need to see faith and the practice of faith as essential to their growth in love for each other. Bishops and priests need to remove the blinkers covering their eyes and see the wider picture of what is actually happening around them. It is time for all of us to wake up!
We need to stop playing the game “Let’s pretend”. Even though God has entered into our human history through the birth of Jesus, our lives have to be an ongoing journey into the deeper reality of our existence. As long as we breathe, there is more of our lives to open, to unbar, to unlock. There is always more of us that we might let God enter into. There is no end to the ways that the Word of God can more fully take on our flesh.
This is especially true of our need to acknowledge how utterly we rely on God’s healing power for our salvation. We want to be whole and finished but are embarrassed by the wounds we bear and the scars hidden at the bottom of our being. We only reluctantly admit our vulnerability. We would rather not be reminded, once again, of our need for redemption. Far more tempting is escaping. Far more appealing is the prospect that we can sleepwalk through life and not address the pain.
The words of Jesus in the Gospel today “Stay Awake” may be read not only as a warning about the end times but as a challenge for us to live in the present, to engage in life now, and to be attentive to the moment at hand. It is the call of Advent itself. Be awake. Do not put off the opening of your life to God.
Denial and postponement are especially true in the matter of our sins, those wounds that we somehow inflict upon ourselves and others. Repression of the truth is common. Admission and reform are rare. We project, we accuse, we complain, we evade, and we distract ourselves. We are not as adept at confession.
In our own place and time, we have made a science of escape and sleep. Rather than live at that sharp edge of life, awake and alert, we pretend that we have no sin. There is nothing wrong with me, no change is required of me. Others need help. My co-workers, my friends and community, and my family are to blame.
We in the church are not especially noted for our willingness to confess our own sins and welcome repentance. At best, one part of the church will attack the other. But how uncommon it is to hear theologians acknowledge the sinfulness of the theologian unless it is a theologian of the opposite persuasion. How scarce is the hierarchy’s confession of guilt. How unusual it is to hear the right wing warn us of conservatives’ sins. How rare is the liberal who admits the possible disorders of liberalism.
How willing are we to make the words of Isaiah in the first reading today our own? “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the God of Jacob that he may teach us his ways so that we make walk in his paths.”
What a hierarchy, what a priesthood, what a people of God we would be if we allowed such sentiments to be our own. But we recoil from the implications. They would have us change. They would make a difference in the way we look at the world. They would unmask too many of the pretences and postures we have assumed.
The theme of Advent is not “let’s pretend.” It is “get real.” Here. Now. Make real the need for God. Make real God’s entry. Make real the Word by accepting it as a disclosure of truth. Not only is God revealed to us; you and I, here and now, are revealed to ourselves.
Thus, every Advent is an opportunity. Together, we might once again experience the Word of God taking flesh in us. And having allowed God such profound entry into the deepest places of our hearts, we may find ourselves giving birth anew to the Word in our world.