By Msgr. Joseph P. Calise
December 31, 1999 brought many speculations – Would computers crash throughout the world when the year turned to 2000? Was it going to be the end of the world? It came to be known as the Y2K crisis and caused more havoc than history proved necessary.
The website “Religious Tolerance” says, “Over the past two millennia, there have probably been thousands of predictions made which anticipate a future world-shaking event. Many are based on an interpretation of religious scriptures. They typically describe an event to occur at a specific date in the future, that would completely change the world. In some of the more remarkable cases, the expectation is that most or all human life on Earth would be wiped out – perhaps all life. All predictions, so far, have failed miserably. We expect more predictions, and more failures, to continue in the forseeable future.”
These predictions have come often enough that white-robed men carrying signs reading, “Repent: the end is near,” have become material for cartoons.
As comical as that may occasionally be, we cannot let humor override a simple truth: The world as I know it will one day end, either through my death or the fulfillment of all time. But we also cannot let that truth override an even greater truth: The end of the world as we know it is not the end, there is a promise that something greater is coming.
In the Gospel, Jesus uses vivid language to teach the disciples about the fragility of this life. But that is not the central message of His discourse. The Gospel is a call to vigilance, to being ready at all times.
When I was a student, I feared surprise quizzes. No matter how well I thought I knew the material, I always appreciated advance notice to be prepared. As a teacher, however, I valued the “pop quizzes” because they let me know what my students were retaining. Knowing that I could administer a test at any moment, the students had to pay closer attention to readings, assignments and lectures if they wanted to be ready. Readiness was not something they could prepare for – it had to be part of their day-to-day experience.
The vigilance to which Jesus calls His followers is the spiritual equivalent of academic preparedness, but leaves us with the fundamental question – How? How do we remain spiritually vigilant? My students knew how to be ready for tests. How do we stay ready to meet Jesus face to face?
Abound in Love
In the first reading, Isaiah calls us to justice, to do what we know is right. The second reading advises that we be blameless in holiness before the Lord. These suggestions get us closer, but there is yet a more direct response. St. Paul tells us simply to “abound in love.”
When Jesus is asked about the greatest commandment, He affirms the first commandment of loving God with heart, mind, body and soul, but is quick to add that the second commandment of sharing that love with neighbor must be seen as intricately linked to love of God. To be spiritually vigilant is to abound in love – of God and neighbor.
This Sunday we begin Advent, a season of preparation for Christmas, the celebration of perfect love made visible. May our imitation of that love, imperfect as our imitation may be, keep us vigilant on our journey to the kingdom.
Readings for the First Sunday of Advent
Jeremiah 33: 14-16
Psalm 25: 4-5, 8-9, 10, 14
1 Thessalonians 3: 12 – 4:2
Luke 21: 25-28, 34-36
Msgr. Calise is the pastor of St. Stanislaus Kostka and Transfiguration parish, Maspeth.