A year ago, we used this image: Imagine two people taking the bus, both are standing, and both are holding on to the rails. The first person is on his phone, and, because the street is straight and smooth, he holds on to the rail lightly. But as soon as they hit a curve in the road, he loses balance and falls. He has a minor injury and the rest of his day is more difficult. The second person also stands and holds on to the rail, but because she’s listened to my homilies, she looks ahead and anticipates the curve. She spends more energy holding on, but that’s all. There’s no fall, no injury, and the rest of her day continues unaffected (Fr. Timothy Gallagher, The Discernment of Spirits, 131-132).
For most of us, December has or will have many curves: lots of activities to attend; it’s the darkest time of the year so we may feel a bit down; there’s an unhealthy expectation to focus on buying things and gifts; and there may be some family gatherings which will be difficult.
So, to prevent us from falling, Jesus wants us to anticipate spiritually what’s coming, and hold on to Him. Three times today, He warns us: “Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with a particular task, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Therefore, keep awake — for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake’” (Mk 13:33-37). To be spiritually awake means to be focused on Jesus. So, where is He working in our lives right now? He’s actually trying to bless us this month. It’s December, but, more importantly, it’s Advent, which means Jesus is coming; He wants us to prepare for His coming and celebrate it, so that we can receive more gifts, because He wants to give us more gifts than we want to receive!
Now that we’re alert to His love for us, the first point to ponder is that Jesus uses temptation to help us grow. When we’re close to Him and things are going well in life, we should rejoice and thank Him. However, we need to remember that it doesn’t last. So, in the next few weeks, expect perhaps to be overwhelmed; expect some temptation to discouragement; be prepared that you might even feel far away from God. Now that we look ahead, how will we respond? How are we going to stay close to Jesus through prayer, proper rest, and time with important relationships?
In a very short parable, Jesus speaks about a ‘man going on a journey,’ which refers to His Ascension into heaven, and He tells us that each person has his or her ‘particular task.’ This refers to our mission in life, one task that He’s assigned to us and not to another, and this means we can’t have it all—this is the second point to ponder. If we’re in final exams right now, we can’t spend as much time doing what we like—that’s impossible; you should let go of the desire to do everything you want—that’s not your mission now; your mission is to do your best at school. If we’re disciples, we need to say ‘No’ to some people in order to focus on Jesus. We cannot please everyone. People will have expectations of us that we cannot fulfill, and that’s fine, because our mission is to please Jesus. To love our family truly, we’ll need to prioritize them. Yes, we will make sacrifices this December, but not prayer and evangelization; we’ll give up instead social media or something less important. This is our time to share Jesus with people when we’re shopping, to love them, and offer to pray for them.
As your spiritual father, I’ve reminded the Catholics here about the grave obligation to participate at every Sunday Mass plus Christmas and January 1; and because it’s so important, we never miss Mass for exams. And don’t forget about Confession.
You can’t have it all, so you must choose. The Holy Spirit will guide us—let’s ask His help.
In the parable, Jesus says, ‘you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly.’ Interestingly, we’ll hear three of these four watches on Palm Sunday in March. 1) “So the disciples set out and went to the city… and they prepared the Passover meal. When it was evening, he came with the twelve…” (Mk 14:16-17). 2) “At that moment the cock crowed for the second time. Then Peter remembered that Jesus had said to him, ‘Before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times’” (14:72). 3) “As soon as it was morning… They bound Jesus, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate” (15:1). ‘Midnight’ is never mentioned and that’s the time when the disciples fall asleep and when Jesus is arrested. They didn’t know when their faith would be tested, and they didn’t fully realize that Jesus would overcome our sins through suffering.
This is the third point: Do we know how our faith is tested? Last week, we heard Daniel Cheung, who was just baptized, share how he had fallen in the shower and how Jesus had helped him. Question: During that moment of suffering, was Daniel close to Jesus or far from Him? Close. Why? Because he was strong in faith. I mention this because often we say things like, ‘Life has been so hard lately,’ and we feel like we’re far from God, but the question is: Are you strong in faith? Because that’s what it means to be close to Jesus. Daniel used to be a professional soccer player in Hong Kong, and his life, from outward appearances, was good, and that’s a blessing. But, was he close to Jesus? No.
So, don’t confuse a good December with being close to Jesus, and don’t confuse a challenging December with being far from Him.
When people say, ‘I feel far from God,’ I often ask, ‘Do you want to be close to God?’ ‘Yes!’ they say. That means they’re close to Him! Because only a person who loves Jesus wants to be close to Him! Last week, 281 of us said that we’ve made the choice that Jesus is the center of our lives. And 215 said that we want Him to be. That’s a sign of love. Build on that! You already love Him. Now move towards making Him the center of your life! Sign up for Alpha or Faith Studies. Don’t worry so much about how you feel. Focus more on faith!
So, this Advent, we’re on a spiritual bus, standing and holding on to Jesus. First thing we see is that there is a big curve coming up, so we’re going to hold on more tightly to prayer, rest, and relationships. Second, we’re going to choose to do a few things, the best things, because we’ve got a particular mission and can’t do it all. Third, focus less on emotions and more on faith because faith is a sign of love.
If we do all these things, we’ll avoid falling. And, even if we don’t feel close to Jesus, the fact is that we will be close to Him.