“Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come.’” (Mark 13:33)
November 30, 2014
First Sunday of Advent
Fr. Robert deLeon, CSC
On February 15, 2013, Reuters News Service reported an incident occurring in Russia that stands alongside so many other events as yet another stark reminder that the earthly road is paved with shocks and surprises. I share an excerpt from the article:
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“More than 500 people were injured when a meteorite shot across the sky and exploded over central Russia, sending fireballs crashing to Earth, shattering windows and damaging buildings. People heading to work in Chelyabinsk heard what sounded like an explosion, saw a bright light and then felt a shockwave in the industrial city 950 miles east of Moscow. A fireball blazed across the horizon, leaving a long white trail in its wake which could be seen as far as 125 miles away in Yekaterinburg. Car alarms went off, windows shattered and mobile phone networks were interrupted.
“[No fatalities were reported but] Russia's Emergencies Ministry said 514 people had sought medical help, mainly for light injuries caused by flying glass, and that 112 of those were kept in hospital. Search groups were set up to look for the remains of the meteorite.
"There have never been any cases of meteorites breaking up at such a low level over Russia before," said the head of the Chelyabinsk branch of the Emergencies Ministry. Although such events are rare, a meteorite is thought to have devastated an area of more than 1,250 miles in Siberia in 1908, smashing windows as far as 125 miles from the point of impact.”
Indeed, the earthly road is paved with startling events, some of them joyous experiences hinting at what heaven holds, others more ominous, even hellish, pushing us onward toward better days. Thus wisdom advises to be on the lookout for the daily surprises that seek to teach us about what matters most. Yes, it’s the very advice Jesus offered his first disciples—and today us, their successors.
In the gospel passage we hear today, “Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come.’” (Mark 13:33) Ominous, for sure! Even scary! But I don’t believe it’s Jesus’ purpose to do that; rather, his language is so strong because he knows our propensity for distraction. Indeed, how often are our eyes and ears attuned only to what we expect to see and hear! How often do we really give ourselves the opportunity to allow surprise to enter our lives. I know that as I grow older, I am becoming more set in my ways, more comfortable with routine and rhythm—and, therefore, less wanting or able to be open to surprise—even the surprises Jesus may offer!
While a first reading of today’s gospel passage may lead one to believe that Jesus is warning us to be prepared for death that it might not catch us unawares, I would offer a broader perspective. I believe Jesus is calling us today to the watchfulness that recognizes the truth that God is calling us to a richer life through our every experience. I believe that God is continually calling us to breathe in more deeply, more fully, the wonder and mystery of life. Indeed, there is no moment in the day that does not offer us a taste of eternity, no human interaction that cannot teach us something of God. If only we will allow ourselves to see, to hear…
While Reuters News Service documented the February 2013 cataclysmic event that caused so many to look to the heavens in terror, most of us have learned to weather the lesser tremors that are no less calls from above to live more fully and deeply. From my unique perspective as a hospital chaplain, I know that illness and hospitalization can provide patients and their families the opportunity to re-examine values and relationships. Indeed, hospitalization can be a holy experience when it allows people to re-boot their lives.
When Jesus sounded the dire warning—“Be watchful! Be alert!”—he didn’t mean to scare us; in fact, he was calling us to experience life more fully, both its terrors and its delights. Thus I confess that just such a heaven-sent delight has been mine over the past year coming to know Kieran, my newest great-nephew. One year old just 10 days ago, I’ve been able to share in his life through Facebook, his parents Caitlin and Luc regularly posting photos of their first-born.
While I don’t get to see him face to face often enough to erase the furrowed brow of suspicion that creases his face when we do meet, I’ve been so delighted in sharing in his first year of life through the photos Caitlin regularly posts. Never having had the opportunity to be a parent, this vicarious experience is a thrill I never expected, couldn’t possibly have anticipated. It has been a gift from above. Yes, Kieran has come into my life not so unlike the Russian meteor that lit the skies!
So full of surprises is this life! And each one holds the potential for a deeper experience of God’s love. Thus proclaims Marilyn Chandler McEntyre in her poem, “How to Recognize Grace”:
“It takes you by surprise // It comes in odd packages // It sometimes looks like loss // Or mistakes // It acts like rain // Or a seed // It’s both reliable and unpredictable // It’s not what you were aiming at // Or what you thought you deserved // It supplies what you need // Not necessarily what you want // It grows you up // And lets you be a child // It reminds you that you’re not in control // And that not being in control // Is a form of freedom”