Bishop Glen John Provost
Bishop of Lake Charles
Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception
Lake Charles, Louisiana
November 27, 2011
First Sunday of Advent
“Be watchful! Be alert!” Mark 13:33
The Greek word ( a form of γρηγορέω ) in the Gospel today that ushers in the Advent Season is translated “Be watchful!” (Mark 13:33). It possesses the connotation of sleeplessness, as in having a wakeful or sleepless night. Because we have all had them, consider what that is like.
You know that you have a full day tomorrow, but you can’t quite get to sleep. You toss and you turn, you doze off and you wake up again, you read a book and you feel drowsy, you go back to bed and you look at the clock to see what time it is. It is not a pleasant experience, and yet Our Lord exhorts us to be wakeful. And for what?
Jesus says it is like a man traveling abroad who gives instructions to his servants to wait for him to return. In the days before text messaging, the servants had no idea when the master would come back, so they had to wait up. The servants knew that they could not be caught asleep when the master returned. So they were wakeful to avoid being caught unaware and unprepared.
The spiritual life is very much like this. How often have I heard people say, “I would love to pray more, but I just don’t have the time”? They are no longer wakeful. They no longer watch for the “master’s return.” They have gone to sleep.
The call to a deeper relationship with God is not something that comes only to hermits and contemplatives. I love St. Francis de Sales on this point. This great saint of the laity reminded everyone in his spiritual classic The Introduction to the Devout Life that everyone—rich or poor, soldier or priest, workman or mother of a family—is called to perfection and that requires a relationship with God. To be in that relationship requires being awake.
To what must we be awake? When does the master return? I would suggest that He comes all the time. Take for example the person who says that he must find time to make a retreat. Now, what makes him say that? God’s grace puts this thought into his mind. It is God prompting him to a deeper relationship. This same thing happens when we feel the need to pray. It is God calling us to Him. All we need do is respond. The prayer already exists. All we need do is make it our own. The question becomes, are we awake enough to know that the master is knocking at the door?
Let us consider something else. God, you know, works often in subtle ways. One of the most subtle ways is through loneliness. I am not speaking here of “aloneness.” I am speaking, instead, of those moments when we feel lonely, abandoned, without friends, without support. It is precisely in such moments that God can speak to us and call us to Himself. When, however, we treat loneliness as we would a headache or an illness and turn to drugs and distractions, then we fall asleep. We cannot hear the knocking at the door, where the master waits to be let in. We may want a relationship with God, but God wants it even more. His desire is far greater than ours. The master wants the door to be opened to him far more than we want to be roused from our sleep to let him in.
Our first reading for this First Sunday of Advent speaks so beautifully about this. “No ear has ever heard, no eye ever seen, any God but you doing such deeds for those who wait for him” (Isaiah 64:3). The wonderful deeds of God can only be seen by those who stay awake to see them. God’s marvels can only be acknowledged by those who are awake to listen to them being proclaimed.
Every time we feel the desire to pray or return to God, it is God telling us that He loves us. All God wants is to be loved in return. All the master wants is for the servant to open the door. Once in, the lights are turned on, the music begins, and the meal is placed on the table. Silly humans that we are, we allow sleep to overtake us, to be overcome with distractions that draw our attention away from the master’s coming.
However, the master continues to knock. Advent is waking time, and it should not be the knock that awakens us. The knock should not arouse us from bed like an alarm clock. Our wakefulness should allow us to hear the first knock. We are awake because we want God.