1st Sunday of Advent 29.11.15 Keeping the fire lit
There was a sense of expectation among the first Christians that Our Lord would return quickly after His Ascension.
But gradually they realized that they might have to settle in for a long haul, and get on with their lives in other ways – getting married, taking up careers etc.
Our Lord intended to give them time to baptize all nations; and also to give us a chance - the future generations!
This created other problems, such as how to keep the fire lit for such long times.
We have struggled as our history shows, and also our present situation. The fire has well and truly gone out for many of Our Lord’s potential disciples.
Many lose the faith along the way (as in the Sower parable); many refuse to embrace it. Many do not have it explained to them properly. All sorts of heresies and schisms arise to lead people astray.
Then we have to do it all over again for each new generation. We have to keep the torch alight and take it to the ends of the earth. Not easy.
This longer-term understanding of Our Lord’s return has implications for our lives too.
It means that if we embrace the faith early in life we have to hold faithful to it for a long time, well beyond half a century.
It is hard for us to be good for such long time spans, at least if by ‘good’ we mean Christ-like perfection.
If we knew Our Lord would return tomorrow we would be on our very best behaviour. We would confess, pray non-stop, help each other etc…
When we push ourselves we can do it, but much of the time we are in a state of slumber - I will get around to it one of these days… It is very easy to put off reform as long as the sky is clear!
Is it possible to be that good for that long? We can do it in short bursts, but do we not have to ease off the pressure as in a long-distance race?
When it comes to following Christ we cannot justify easing off, at least not in a spiritual sense. cf today’s epistle: Shake off the slumber. Get out there and do something. The enthusiasm of St Paul may not appeal to us. Give me another hour in bed we might say.
It can sound like a burden to have to be good all the time. Going to Mass, praying the Rosary, keeping out of mischief…
But if there are points along the way where we can be refreshed and rejuvenated it becomes manageable.
Refreshment, and also retrieval if we have gone astray. So we have Confession and can climb back on anytime.
The sacraments, our prayer, the Mass especially – these things replenish us with heavenly grace, wisdom, kindness, goodwill, ability to make sacrifices. Like Elijah who ate mysterious food provided for him and was able to walk for forty days (3 K 19,8).
Just like we need food to stay alive for a long time, so we need food from Heaven to sustain us.
So living for 50-plus years as a disciple of Christ is not so hard as we thought. We can always take the present moment and put all our energy into it.
It is not a weary pilgrimage so much as an ever-new adventure. Each time takes us to the next one and eventually we can rest.
It is not only possible to do this but necessary. Not only necessary but desirable – something we want to do. Following Christ is not a burden but a joy.
Let us not lose the moments while we still have them. While the daylight lasts we make use of it.
If we lived for 300 years instead of 100 we could still do this, on the same principle.
But also we are ready at any moment to leave.
Both ways we can handle it. The Lord will make it possible. He is our hope and our strength.