Waiting for Christ — and enjoying it Print
Bishop Morlino's Column
Thursday, Dec. 03, 2009 -- 1:00 AM

Editor’s note: The following column was adapted from a homily given by Bishop Robert C. Morlino at his Stational Mass at St. Patrick Church in Madison on the first Sunday of Advent.

Dear Friends,

I want to begin by offering a special greeting to our good friends who have undertaken RCIA formation and soon will be received into full communion with the Church — some through Baptism and Confirmation and some through Confirmation and reception at the great Easter Vigil. Your journey is truly under way and I hope you have the sense of just how close you really are. You’re almost there! We welcome you into our family wholeheartedly and we want to walk with you through the rest of your beautiful journey to Easter, as so many have been walking with you faithfully in the days past.

Pope Benedict was very visible as we commenced our Advent Season. He celebrated Solemn Vespers on Saturday night to begin Advent and, of course, he gave his regular Sunday Morning Angelus Address. In this space, I thought I might give you some of my reflections on the three points which our Holy Father made.

With this first Sunday of Advent, we begin a new “Church year.” It is much easier to begin a new Church year than it is to begin the New Year. As I looked out at the congregation gathered this Sunday, I was reminded that generally everybody is in much better shape on the First Sunday of Advent than they are on New Year’s Day! So we rejoice in that fresh start, with a clear head.

God visiting us in Christ

Of course Advent is all about presence — the presence of God-with-us — the presence of Christ. Our Holy Father reminds us that this “presence” takes the form of God visiting us. I would encourage you to consider this: when we pray during Advent, we’re remembering the coming of Christ in history, we’re remembering the past. But, we also remember the present; we remember the reality of Christ’s presence everyday in the Eucharist and in our lives — in community and in private prayer, and especially in Eucharistic Adoration apart from Mass. But, intriguingly, during Advent, we also “remember” the future, we remember that Christ will come again in glory.

Just think about that for a minute: you do not say, “I remember that I will go to the grocery store tomorrow,” or “I remember that this afternoon I will bring up some additional firewood.” Normally we speak about plans or hopes for the future, but that differs from what the future actually may be. We remember the past, we live the present, and we look forward to the future, which is hidden from our eyes. But, in Advent and through our Christian lives, we remember that Jesus will come in glory! We say it right in the Eucharistic prayer, we remember that He suffered and died, that He rose, that He ascended, and that He will come again in the fullness of His glory.

That remembering is, in itself, mystical prayer. It’s the only form of prayer that is “easy” that is also mystical, because through the Church and the Holy Spirit we are able to remember the future in this one instance. When we remember the future, we are outside of time and we are clearly in God’s time and in God’s world. And just that simple experience of remembering the future places us in God’s world and unites us mystically with Him. That remembering of the past, the present, and especially the future, getting into God’s world, is the main way in which he visits us every blessed day, especially at Mass.

Our whole life, each and every day, is a visit from God, in Christ. Just think about that. Is that how we think and pray when we get up in the morning? In our humanness we frequently get up in the morning — I do it myself — and look at our schedule and say, “Lord, this truly is going to be a bad day.” And, indeed, it might not be a “fun” day, but it can’t possibly be a “bad” day for you and me as Christians, because even in the midst of those difficult things that we are called to live through on any given day, which are not at all fun, there is embedded a visit from God. That is what our life is everyday.

By remembering that Jesus Christ came in history, that He comes in mystery each day, and that He will come in majesty at the end, we are pulled into God’s Word and we are mystical in our prayer if we really let that remembering take hold of us. “Visiting,” the visiting of God in Christ, that was Pope Benedict’s first point and mine.

We should enjoy the waiting in Advent

The second point is about “waiting.” Americans do not like to wait. The world record in swearing is constantly being reset when Americans wait in traffic! Americans don’t care to wait in traffic, don’t care to wait in lines, and don’t care to wait for the start of appointments. Americans don’t like to wait.

But, when you think about it, waiting is really only troublesome if it’s going to make you late getting somewhere you need to be. I know some situations where a husband is stuck in traffic on the way home and he knows from his phone calls that his wife has had a really rough day with the kids. He’s knows that there’s nothing he can do about the situation of the traffic, so he may see the traffic back-up as good, in that it postpones what is about to happen when he gets home! If you’re not waiting for something important or something you desire, then often the waiting we do isn’t bad. The waiting that we’re called to do in Advent not only isn’t bad, but it’s good.

We are waiting for the coming of Jesus, especially that coming of Jesus when He calls us from this world, back to Himself. Nobody was ever late for his/her own death — everyone dies perfectly on time. When it’s “that time,” you and I will be right on time. And when Jesus comes in the fullness of his glory, we can’t be late for that — it can’t happen.

That’s why one of the beautiful prayers for Advent says that when the Lord comes, He wants to find us watching in prayer, our hearts filled with wonder and praise. That’s the perfect description of how we wait — watching in prayer, our hearts filled with wonder and praise, remembering the past, the present, and the future, realizing that our time of waiting, our life, is a visit from God, with us. And that is more important than everything else. The opposite of that creative waiting is waiting with a “drowsy heart,” as we heard in this Sunday’s Gospel.

People who say they are waiting for the Lord can get extremely busy — they even forget that they’re waiting after a while. What do they get busy with? The Gospel says that they get busy with carousing and drunkenness. It reminds me of when I lived in the dorms with the students — some knew how to keep busy with carousing and drunkenness. And I hear that some know now how to do even a better job of it than when I lived there.

Carousing and drunkenness are two of the things we keep busy with, but the Gospel also mentions “the anxieties of life,” all those problems that people have at work, or the problems that moms could be having at home which explains why they’re calling their husbands eight times a day. You’re busy while you wait.

And that drowsy heart — which sometimes deceives us because it doesn’t feel drowsy, but very busy — makes us forget that we’re waiting for things that are the most important things in our lives and things for which we cannot fail to have hope and for which we should, at the deepest level, enjoy the wait. Even if there are anxieties of life, we should realize that those anxieties are the place of God, in Christ, visiting us, and that they’re not to be escaped from by carousing and drunkenness. That’s not the way to deal with the anxieties of life. The way to deal with them is to look for the presence of God hidden in those anxieties.

And those anxieties are part and parcel of married life — that’s what married people sign up for. You can’t agree completely to sacrifice for the other and to have a bunch of kids and not have anxiety. But Christ is right in the middle there. And sometimes as they get older, the parents become a source of anxiety for the kids. Anxiety finds itself often in the midst of marriages, but so too do the deepest human joys of life and all of this is the time of God’s visitation. And so as we wait, the way to deal with the anxieties of life is not carousing and drunkenness, but is to remember the past, the present, and also the future.

Advent is a season of hope

Lastly, the Holy Father made the point that Advent is a season of hope. Our Holy Father loves to talk about hope, and he made the point this morning that Jesus Christ is our hope. He is the center of our life of faith. Jesus is our hope, as followers of Christ, but just as importantly, He is the foundation of hope for every human being. He is the center of our faith as disciples of Christ, but he is also the foundation of hope for every last human being, because every human being, just because he or she is human, and for no other reason at all, wants to be hopeful and not disappointed. And there is only one hope, only one vision, Who can never disappoint. That’s the hope Who is Jesus Christ and the vision of His glory. Everything else can disappoint.

So, Advent is a time that the Lord gives us the grace to be renewed in that hope and to get out there and to ask people who are not disciples of Christ, “do you have hope in your life? Do you want to be hopeful? Are you placing your hopes in carousing and drunkenness? Do you live your life for the weekend, when you can escape from the reality of your life in one way or another? Is that what you hope for — escape? Or does your hope free you from the need to escape? Do you hope so as to know your hope will never disappoint?”

It’s like playing a tough football game but knowing in advance that you will win. In that case, when you take the hard knocks of the game, you say it doesn’t matter so much, because victory is assured. That is what the birth of Christ and His Resurrection are all about: that I am sure of victory! And so I carry out my mission; I play the game as one whose victory is assured. And that changes the world from hopeless to hope-filled.

Advent and every day of our lives can be great days. So let’s keep focused this Advent on Christ who visits us every day, who rescues us from a drowsy heart, distracted by everything that’s not important; Christ for whom we hope, Christ who is above all The Hope who does not disappoint!

Thank you for reading this. God bless each and every one of you as we begin this season of Advent! Praised be Jesus Christ!