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If you think the Gospel this Sunday isn’t about you, then it probably is about you: Jesus is issuing a warning precisely to those people who feel they need no warning.
“Stay awake!” says Jesus in the Gospel for the First Sunday of Advent, Year A). “For you do not know on which day your Lord will come.”
The readings this Sunday warn that Jesus is coming — and that he is going to judge us on our actual lives and not our religious feelings.
We are probably accustomed to being very easy on ourselves because of our wonderful religious feelings. We love God. We go to church. Heck, we even read Catholic writers.
Not so fast. “There are two kinds of presumption,” says the Catechism. A man commits this sin against the First Commandment either by ‘hoping to be able to save himself without help from on high’ or by ‘hoping to obtain his forgiveness without conversion and glory without merit’” (2092).
This Advent, if you want to know if you are presumptuous, check to see if the objective facts in your life tell the same story you have been telling yourself.
Do you control your appetites or vice versa? You want to be moderate in what you eat or drink. You occasionally even make a significant sacrifice in this area. But does it happen even more often that you rationalize and break your own rule? Look at the facts: How many sweets or sodas or glasses of wine did you consume yesterday? This week?
You understand and feel very strongly that you need to control your spending. Good. But look at the bottom line: Are you living within your means or not? Do you have a budget which you follow or not? Are you finding yourself frequently in debt or not?
Go through each of the seven deadly sins (pride, greed, envy, wrath, lust, gluttony, and sloth). and check the objective facts. And don’t forget sins of omission.
You know well that Christians should serve the poor. Great. Do you do it? Does your non-Catholic neighbor know you at all? Do you know if the person next door needs anything? These kinds of questions apply to all areas of your life. How can you be more helpful to others? How can you share the faith more with others?
Also, you may serve in some service work already, and you keep telling yourself that you will spend more time with your family someday soon. When? What about doing it now? You may have great intentions to reach out to that troubled member in your family or in your workplace. Your good intentions have done nothing for that person; they have only made you feel better.
You might even feel holy because you feel guilty about all the right things (that is how I feel writing this column). You may have tremendous, hand-wringing, cathartic examinations of conscience. Fine.
But Jesus isn’t going to quiz us on our marvelous feelings of religious sentiment or our deep understanding of our guilt or our clear intentions to change at some future point of time.
He is going to judge us on the objective facts of our real life, right now: on what we did yesterday, on where this paycheck went, on how we treat our family members and what our neighbors received from us today … or what they didn’t.
“You know the time,” says St. Paul in the first reading. “It is the hour, now, for you to awake from sleep. … Let us then throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.”
Yes, let’s. Welcome to Advent.
Photo: CapturedO, Flickr Creative Commons