We are now beginning the season of Advent. I believe last year I commented on the fact that Advent has two themes dealing with the waiting for Christ. The first part of Advent, through Dec 16 deals with waiting for Christ’s return in glory. Starting on Dec 17th we start to focus on and prepare more immediately to celebrate the birth of the Christ.
Our readings today deal with being awake so we are ready for Christ’s return. Not only are we to be awake, but we are to prepare for the coming of Christ.
In our second reading, from Paul’s letter to the Romans we heard:
Let us then throw off the works of darkness
and put on the armor of light;
let us conduct ourselves properly as in the day,
not in orgies and drunkenness,
not in promiscuity and lust,
not in rivalry and jealousy.
But put on the Lord Jesus Christ,
and make no provision for the desires of the flesh.
And in the Gospel we heard, “So too, you also must be prepared,
for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.”
Two weeks ago I spoke on preparing using the context of the motto of the Boy Scouts, “Be Prepared.” How is it that we start to be prepared.
We read in the CCC
2607 When Jesus prays he is already teaching us how to pray. His prayer to his Father is the theological path (the path of faith, hope, and charity) of our prayer to God. But the Gospel also gives us Jesus' explicit teaching on prayer. Like a wise teacher he takes hold of us where we are and leads us progressively toward the Father. Addressing the crowds following him, Jesus builds on what they already know of prayer from the Old Covenant and opens to them the newness of the coming Kingdom. Then he reveals this newness to them in parables. Finally, he will speak openly of the Father and the Holy Spirit to his disciples who will be the teachers of prayer in his Church.
2608 From the Sermon on the Mount onwards, Jesus insists on conversion of heart: reconciliation with one's brother before presenting an offering on the altar, love of enemies, and prayer for persecutors, prayer to the Father in secret, not heaping up empty phrases, prayerful forgiveness from the depths of the heart, purity of heart, and seeking the Kingdom before all else.(64) This filial conversion is entirely directed to the Father.
2609 Once committed to conversion, the heart learns to pray in faith. Faith is a filial adherence to God beyond what we feel and understand. It is possible because the beloved Son gives us access to the Father. He can ask us to "seek" and to "knock," since he himself is the door and the way.(65) (1997 Catechism of the Catholic Church 2607)
This conversion of heart of which the CCC speaks comes with throwing off the “works of darkness”. This is truly the first step leading to fruitful prayer. Paul mentions the works of darkness and we’ve heard the list twice already this morning so I’ll not use them like a battering ram.
I do want to comment upon how easily we can get trapped in these “works of darkness.” In one of our recent CD of the month offerings, Matthew Kelly compares our soul to a car. I know, for some of us this requires us to move to our imagination.
Matthew talks about getting our car cleaned. We come out of the car wash. The interior has been vacuumed. The trash as all been left in garbage can. The dash has been wiped down with Armour-all. Wow! What a beautiful looking car we have. We start down the street and see a mud puddle. We go out of our way to make sure we don’t hit the mud puddle. The car is still clean. We go through the drive through for a Whooper. We are careful not to drop any of the lettuce on our lap and when we finish we make sure the bag is properly placed in the trash. As time goes on, the outside of the car starts to pick up a little dirt and grim from the road and just the dirt sticking to the dew on the outside of the car. After a while we might put a small wrapper in back seat to be picked up later. Soon, the back seat is filled with wrappers and other trash. We don’t care if we hit a mud puddle because the car is already dirty.
Our souls are much like this car. When we first get out of confession with our sins forgiven, we are excited to keep ourselves clean. As we go on through life, we start to pick up the dirt of daily living. Once the car shows a little dirt, or picks up a little trash in the back seat, it is easier to add little more. What difference does that little more make? Even the venial sins in our lives can start to add up and make us more open to the next sin. The “works of darkness” are growing in our hearts.
Jesus calls us to prepare because we do not know when the Son of Man will return. One of the ways we prepare is to work on cleaning our soul with a good confession. This is a step towards the conversion of heart from the CCC. Having received the sacrament of reconciliation, it makes it easier for us to work on the same reconciliation with others. Jesus talks about loving our enemies and praying for our persecutors. We hear of the need for prayerful forgiveness from the depths of our hearts. For these things, we need God’s grace working in our lives. That grace grows as we participate in the sacraments, especially the sacrament of reconciliation.
As we heard in the CCC, “Once committed to conversion, the heart learns to pray in faith.” Note it does not say once converted, but once committed to conversion. “ Faith is a filial adherence to God beyond what we feel and understand.” We many times do not understand all we are asked to do in faith. As we pray and ask for God’s guidance, we may come to understand some of it more completely, but we may only be give the grace to accept certain things as a matter of faith. But, “It is possible because the beloved Son gives us access to the Father. He can ask us to "seek" and to "knock," since he himself is the door and the way.”
We do not know when the Son of Man will return. We do know we need to prepare and cast off “works of darkness.” We can do this through confession and prayer. May God bless you as you prepare for his return.