“Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come … Watch!” These are the words of our Lord to his disciples in this Sunday’s gospel reading (Mk. 13:33-37). As disciples of Christ today these words must also resonate in our hearts and we must take the time to worthily reflect upon them.
Now that we have survived Black Friday and are officially into the commercial season of Christmas, our faith invites us with the blessing and lighting of the Advent wreath to enter also into a faith-filled preparation for the celebration of our Lord’s birth.
Watch! Let our hearts be prepared to receive the Christ and to know the wondrous things God has done for us!
A good question to ask is how might we “watch”, how do we develop the ability to see with the eyes of faith? It is a fair question. After all, the commercial season of Christmas is quite efficient at initiating people, even at an extremely young age, into its understanding of the season. So, it is possible to do.
I would like to suggest that the introduction of the new Roman Missal gives us, as Church, a unique opportunity this Advent season. The liturgy is the heart of who we are as Church – it is both our source and our summit. In the Mass we encounter Christ uniquely – we hear him speak, we watch his actions, we receive his very body and blood. In the grace of the sacrament Christ cures our blindness and opens our eyes and we learn to see with the eyes of faith.
There are two different responses that the community is asked to make in the new translation that I would like to reflect upon as opportunities of learning how to watch. These are the responses of “And with your spirit.” and the response at the invitation to communion: “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”
The response, “And with your spirit.” runs throughout the liturgy. Wherever the celebrant says, “The Lord be with you.” the response now given is “And with your spirit.” It is a closer translation to the original Latin. But more than being just an exercise in literalism I would like to propose that this “And with your spirit.” translation is quite revolutionary and is indeed counter-cultural. In many ways these four words distinguish the faith-filled preparation for Christmas from the commercial preparation.
The response reminds us and gives testimony to the truth that there is a spiritual reality to life and, in fact, all of creation. We live in a time of the dictatorship of materialism; the pervasive thought that only that which can be measured, weighed and quantified scientifically is real. There is no spirit, there is no soul and, if carried to its logical conclusion, there is no God. There is no hope. The dictatorship of materialism seeks to lock one into a reduced, limited and limiting view of reality that as it greatly extols “freedom of thought” and human dignity in truth is a denial of both. It is pervasive and its affects are varied: from the need to acquire more “stuff” to the defining of the human person and relationships only in terms of commerce (i.e. “What can this person do for me?”) and the reduction of time as a moment of possibility and encounter to a moment to be measured only in terms of production. Ultimately it leads only to a place where the human person is reduced and hope is lacking.
With the response, “And with your spirit.” the Church gives witness to a different view of reality. Life is more than just “stuff”, there is a dignity to the human person and a unique possibility to relationship, time is a gift that is meant to be valued and a gift open to the infinite. There is a sacramental quality to all reality that cannot ultimately be denied. With the lighting of the Advent candles the Church is not naive to the darkness of the present times but watches, recognizes and places its hope in the dawning of the coming Daystar who is Christ and very Kingdom of God. Before this light the darkness of the world and the darkness of the heart flees.
At the invitation to communion when the consecrated Body and Blood of Christ is held up and the priest says, “Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world. Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb.” The people now respond, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”
This more accurate response gives witness to how the Eucharistic liturgy is grounded in Sacred Scripture. In the eighth chapter of Matthew a centurion comes to Jesus seeking healing for his ill servant. Our Lord responds to the centurion’s request by saying that he will come with him in order to cure the servant. To this the centurion responds, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof: but only speak the word, and my servant will be healed.” The gospel then goes on to say that Jesus is “amazed” at the man’s faith.
At the invitation to communion we also are asked to make a sign of deep faith. “Yes, I believe. This is the very body and blood of my savior that I am about to receive. Say the word and my soul shall be healed.”
I would like to also hold “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof…” in relation to this Sunday’s first reading from the prophet Isaiah (Is. 63:16b-17, 19b, 64:2-7). In the reading we hear the plea and the yearning of the people of Israel for the justice of God (a plea and yearning we know in our world today): “Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, with the mountains quaking before you, while you wrought awesome deeds we could not hope for, such as they had not heard of from of old. No ear has ever heard, no eye ever seen, any God but you doing such deeds for those who wait for him.”
“Rend the heavens … the mountains quaking before you … you wrought awesome deeds …” “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof…”
Truly, none of us are worthy yet this is what God has done for us in Christ. We need both the humble awareness and the great faith of the centurion. The Eucharist is the most frightening of gifts. In it the very One who rends the heavens comes to dwell under the tiniest roof of our existence.
“Watch!”, says the Lord.
In the liturgy the Church watches and yearns for the return of the bridegroom and we learn to see with eyes enlightened by faith.