First Sunday of Advent, Year B

Most Reverend Paul D. Etienne

 As we enter a new Liturgical Year and another Advent Season, we are reminded of the urgency to be watchful and waiting for the Lord.  The Redemptorist priest, Fr. Maurice Nutt, CSSR in his book Advent and Christmas, Wisdom from St. Alphonsus Liguori, tells us that The four weeks of Advent are often thought of as symbolizing the four different ways Christ comes into the world: (1) upon his birth as a helpless infant; (2) upon his arrival in the hearts of believers; (3) upon his death; and (4) upon his arrival on Judgment Day. (p. xi)


In The Gospel today, Mark gives us the final words of Jesus prior to the beginning of his account of the Passion.  Be watchful! Be alert!  You do not know when the time will come.  (Mark 13:33)  Isn’t it interesting that the first words from Jesus in the season of Advent are His last words prior to his passion?  Actually, this is no surprise at all.  Jesus’ humble entrance into the world and his self-sacrificing death on the cross are all about the salvation of our souls.  The work of Jesus is a work of redemption in order to lead us again to the eternal embrace of the Father.


It is the Father Isaiah speaks of in the First reading today: You, Lord, are our Father, our redeemer you are named forever. (Isaiah 63:16)  Indeed, God has come down from heaven in the person of Jesus, rending the heavens, with the mountains quaking before him. . . Would that you might meet us doing right, that we were mindful of you in our ways!  Behold, you are angry, and we are sinful; all of us have become like unclean people, we have all withered like leaves, and our guilt carries us away like the wind.   


Advent calls us to reflect upon our need for the Savior, Jesus Christ.  Advent calls us to the wisdom that knows much more is at stake than our worldly existence.  Advent alerts us to a clarity of vision regarding things eternal.  The evangelist, St. Luke puts these final words on the lips of Jesus prior to his Passion account: 


Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life, and that day catch you by surprise like a trap.  For that day will assault everyone who lives on the face of the earth.  Be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent and to stand before the Son of Man.  (Luke 21: 34-36)


This past week I had the opportunity to hike and hunt up on the South Fork of the Shoshoni.  By midweek, the temperatures approached the mid 50’s, warm enough to bring the bears out of hibernation.  Sure enough, as we walked along, we saw fresh grizzly tracks in the snow.  I need not tell you, a grizzly is a frightening and fierce creature to encounter in any circumstance, and is always an imminent threat to life and limb, whether one is carrying a high powered rifle and wearing a side-arm or not!  Thankfully, no such encounter ensued, but it put me on high alert!


It is precisely to such an “alert way of life” Christ is calling us this Advent season.  We hear much in our day about “secularism” and the “New Evangelization.”  But what exactly do these mean?  First of all, secularism is a philosophy of life which rejects God, and rejects any attempts on the part of believers to insert their faith and morals into public discourse, politics or legislation.  Webster’s Dictionary defines secularism thus: “a view of life or of any particular matter based on the premise that religion and religious considerations should be ignored or purposely excluded : a system of social ethics based upon a doctrine that ethical standards and conduct should be determined exclusively with reference to the present life and social well-being without reference to religion.” 


My dear friends, secularism is the moral grizzly bear of our day!  The New Evangelization is our response.  The New Evangelization is our opportunity, our mandate, to re-proclaim Christ to a culture and world that formerly considered itself Christian.  The New Evangelization is our effort to “Go out to all the world and proclaim the Good News,” to bring Christ to our people, and to bring our people to Christ.  This is the “good work” the Opening Prayer of Mass exhorts of us:  Grant your faithful, we pray, almighty God, the resolve to run forth to meet your Christ with righteous deeds at his coming.


 We must pray for the Wisdom of Solomon, and the patience of an oyster, as we face this present culture, and address its many, subtle efforts to lower our moral standards and discredit any belief in the Divine Revelation that is ours in Sacred Scripture.  Advent calls us to be honest about the values and beliefs that we hold because of cultural convenience, rather than the values and beliefs dear to our faith. We must be alert to the many cultural messages that reinforce a relative view of Truth.  Let me be very clear: We as Catholic Christians believe in an absolute Truth, and that Absolute Truth is found in and preached by Jesus Christ.  It is this Truth that underlies our Christian values and beliefs.  This is the Truth we are called to live and bring to the public forum.  The death many people face today is a moral death, and the only remedy is Christ and the life which only He brings.


Secularism is real, and recent surveys tell us it is having more of an effect on the values and morals of our people today than is our faith.  Advent is our claxon call to “Wake up!”  It is time to not only draw a line in the sand, but to reclaim lost ground in the culture war for moral values and Truth.  We belong to Christ.  He has claimed us for Himself and His Kingdom through his life, death and resurrection.  He and His Kingdom are all that really matter.  He and His Church, His Catholic Church, are to be our passion and our life.
My dear people, Advent calls us to be alert for the presence of Christ in our daily lives.  Advent calls us to renew again our commitment to acknowledge Christ as the source of our life and to make Him once again our center.  He is our origin and our destiny.  This admonition is captured well in our closing prayer for Mass:


…even now, as we walk amid passing things, you teach us by them, O Lord, to love the things of heaven and hold fast to what endures, Through Christ our Lord.


My dear friends, let us live accordingly!  Let us live according to Christ our Lord!