THE BISHOP'S CROZIER: Be Watchful! Be Alert!
By Bishop James R. Golka
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.”
– 1 Thessalonians 5:18
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
On this first weekend of Advent, we hear Jesus in St. Mark’s Gospel encouraging us to, “Be watchful! Be alert!” With these words, Jesus is not suggesting we prepare for his birth, so what is this emphasis on watchfulness on this First Sunday of Advent?
The Church gives us the answer in the Catechism: “When the Church celebrates the liturgy of Advent each year, she makes present this ancient expectancy of the Messiah, for by sharing in the long preparation for the Savior’s first coming, the faithful renew their ardent desire for his second coming” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 524).
Our modern culture often shifts its “ardent desire” to Christmas as soon as the last of the Thanksgiving turkey is consumed. However, our Church, which has been countercultural since Jesus Christ established it on the rock of St. Peter, takes a very different view of “preparation” in the Advent season.
Part of the Advent season, specifically the last eight days of Advent, certainly points to the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. Preparing to acknowledge that moment in time when Jesus was born of the chaste enclosure of Mary’s womb is an important and beautiful event worthy of celebration.
Just as important and beautiful is our ongoing preparation for the second coming of Jesus, a return about which Jesus himself tells us in the Gospel for this First Sunday of Advent, “You do not know when the time will come” (Mk 13:33). We reaffirm our belief in this return every time we profess the Nicene Creed, “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.”
On those occasions where our culture acknowledges that Jesus will come again, often there is a rapid transition into anxiety about that day. In one sense, perhaps we should approach the second coming of Jesus with “fear and trembling” as St. Paul suggests in Philippians 2:12. However, St. Paul also encourages us in the second reading for this First Sunday of Advent by reminding us that God himself “will keep you firm to the end, irreproachable on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 1:8).
I encourage all of us to spend these early days of Advent preparing not just for Christmas, but for the second and final coming of Jesus Christ. Contemplation of that day should, if we are as prepared as Jesus tells us to be, fill us with a joy and awe that can only come from a unity, a oneness, with Jesus.
If we are prepared for that day, then we shall live what St. John foretells in the Book of Revelation: “They will look upon his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. Night will be no more, nor will they need light from lamp or sun, for the Lord God shall give them light, and they shall reign forever and ever” (Rev 22:4-5).
In inviting us to prepare for his return, Jesus invites us into an eternal and infinitely loving relationship with him. How can we enter into the eternal, the infinite? This eternal and infinite unity with Jesus is possible because of the humility and charity that Jesus himself becomes.
Jesus becomes humility by taking on human flesh: “Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2:7-8). And Jesus becomes charity by becoming the Father’s love for us, “As the Father loves me, so I also love you” (John 15:9).
Finally, as we continue our three-year journey through the Eucharistic Revival, we are reminded that we can fuel our fascination with Jesus, we can fuel our desire for unity with Jesus at his second coming, by encountering him in the Eucharist. The one who humbles himself, who loves us, who desires unity with us, is truly present in the Eucharistic miracle. The food that prepares us for the second coming of Jesus Christ is Jesus Christ himself.
As we embark on this journey through Advent, let us refocus ourselves, not just on preparing for Christmas, but on preparing ourselves for that day when Jesus will come again in glory.