Guest Columnists

Advent: Embrace The Suspense

By Msgr. Joseph P. Calise

The experience of waiting for something can cause a lot of different emotions.

The effects of waiting for a train when you are late for work or waiting for results from some medical tests are very different from waiting for the tooth fairy or Easter bunny to come.

Waiting can cause excitement and joy, but it can also be the source of fear and anxiety. The emotions are not caused by the person or thing being awaited but by our own anticipation.

On Pins and Needles

If work is going well and a few minutes won’t matter, the late train is an annoyance, not a problem. If the medical tests were routine and we feel well, we can anticipate the results will confirm our sense of good health. On the other hand, if we are unsure and nervous about our health, we might be on proverbial pins and needles until the results come in. Waiting can be an everyday experience or a trauma based on what we expect when that for which we are waiting arrives.

Alfred Hitchcock, famed director, producer and screenwriter as well as a television personality, was nicknamed the “Master of Suspense” because he was able to control an audience’s emotions so well. He was once asked to explain why he chose to call his work suspense rather than mystery. His answer basically said that mystery is a “whodunit.” Something happens, good or bad, and you have to figure out who or what was the cause. This process is intellectual and is seldom emotionally captivating.

However, if you show a gloved hand placing a bomb on a boat and then see the boat out on the water, you know what is going to happen but don’t know when and actually want to warn the people on the boat to get off of it. That feeling of personal involvement is the reaction to suspense.

The cry of Jesus in today’s Gospel is, “Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come.” We do not know when the time will come, but we know that it will come.

As we begin Advent, we certainly remember the events of Bethlehem over two millennia ago. However, we remember those events because the Baby in the crib grew up, revealed His divine identity and in today’s Gospel reminds us that He will return. But we do not know when.

Awake, Aware, Alert

Today is not only the beginning of our preparation for the Christmas season but also a time of being awake, aware and alert. The word “advent” comes from the Latin, “adventus” (arrival), which is a translation of the Greek word, “parousia,” which is a reference to the second coming but also brings to mind the waiting of the Jews for the Messiah in the Old Testament.

Although Charles Dickens’ classic is called “A Christmas Carol,” I think it could just as easily be “An Advent Carol.” It tells the story, of course, of Ebenezer Scrooge and his encounter with the spirits of Christmas past, present and yet-to-come. In those spirits, we find an Advent message.

We remember Advent Past: the longing of the world for the Messiah, the Promised One of the Old Testament. Advent Present keeps us mindful of Christ present in His Church through His people and uniquely in the Eucharist. He is here now. We need to remain watchful for His appearance, whether as a lonely neighbor or a hungry stranger. And Advent Yet-to-Come is the day when He returns to bring all things to Himself. For that day, we must stay awake, keeping ourselves spiritually ready at any moment.

At the heart of his Gospel, St. John wrote that “God so loved the world that He sent His Only Begotten Son so that those who believe in Him might not perish but would have eternal life.”

Knowing it will happen but not knowing when brings us into the suspense. Advent is our opportunity to acknowledge the power of the promised Messiah living among us and to open our hearts to the strength He gives us to stay awake for His return.

Readings for the First Sunday of Advent

Isaiah 63: 16B-17, 19B; 64: 2-7

Psalm 80: 2-3, 15-16, 18-19

1 Corinthians 1: 3-9

Alleluia Psalm 85: 8

Mark 13: 33-37


Msgr. Joseph P. Calise is the pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel parish, Williamsburg.