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Lord Jesus, please come. Enough is enough. We don’t understand what you’re doing. Are you avoiding us? Why? We need you here. Surely you have noticed!
We make our own the urgent words of your prophets and evangelists in the readings for the First Sunday of Advent Year B.
There, we see that you told us what it would be like, waiting for you. You were right.
“It is like a man traveling abroad,” you say in Sunday’s Gospel. “You do not know when the lord of the house is coming, whether in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning.”
The Church expected you in the morning, when Christianity was new, but you didn’t come. So we expected you in the evening, when the Church seemed to grow complacent and the Reformation peeled whole nations — nations of vulnerable families — away from the sacraments. You didn’t come then either.
Now it feels like midnight, and you’re still not here, as we are swallowed up by deep darkness.
First of all, it feels like midnight in the Church.
In the Gospel, the master places his servants in charge, “each with his own work.” You did the same thing with your Church, putting your household in our hands. And how is that going now?
I’m not sure who has failed more completely: Is the scandalous behavior of Church leaders or their flock worse? Both failed miserably in the abuse crisis. Now we have a fidelity crisis, and both are failing still.
On the one hand are shocking acts by your hierarchy: dissension and factionalism, provocation and retaliation. On the other hand is the shocking response of lay Catholics who long ago stopped passing your way of life on to our families and communities. And now, the best of us, instead of speaking about your love, your greatness, your doctrine, and your sacraments, spend our time writing talking points for the enemies of the Church, convincing the world (and ourselves, God help us) that you were a fool to create a papacy and to put your Church in the hands of human beings.
It so often feels like the whole Church, shepherds and flocks, are being played for fools by the devil. And he’s winning. “The soiled garments and face of your Church throw us into confusion. Yet it is we ourselves who have soiled them!” Cardinal Ratzinger prayed. “When we fall, we drag you down to earth, and Satan laughs, for he hopes that you will not be able to rise from that fall.”
Come back, Jesus. Rise up.
Make the Church the mother you promised us. We address your Church now in the words of the poet Gertrude von le Fort: “Mother, I lay my head in your lap. Protect me from Yourself!”
It also feels like midnight for the family.
In Sunday’s Gospel, you are the master who “orders the gatekeeper to be on watch.”
As Christmas approaches, our eyes are fixed on the manger where Joseph stood gatekeeper for your faithful daughter Mary, far from home, staying close to your manger.
But how many fathers are gatekeepers now? How many children now never know their fathers? How many men refuse to lead their children, refuse to put their lives on the line for the women who made them fathers? How many of us look at our responsibility, the role we were born to, and shrug off the daily duties of fatherhood, preferring lazy comforts and selfish pleasures?
And how many mothers reject motherhood, through contraception and abortion? How many reverse the Blessed Mother’s fiat with a “No. I am not the handmaid of the Lord — let it not be done unto me according to your word”?
And how many people around us are avoiding monogamy and lifelong marriage because of the bad examples of Catholics? And how many in your Church stood idly by as divorce was liberalized and the definition of marriage was changed?
As John Paul the Prophet said: “Families will be the first victims of the evils that they have done no more than note with indifference.” He was right. The family is in darkness now, and we fear for the future because he also said: “As the family goes, so goes the nation and so goes the whole world in which we live.”
And, let’s admit it: Many of our individual lives feel like midnight too; a darkness illumined only by the digital glow of a smart phone.
“May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping,” you said. Well, we might as well be asleep: Instead we are captivated by technology.
We know the addiction to posting, checking, and reacting; the addiction to outrage, the addiction to spending, the addiction to shows we shouldn’t watch and games we shouldn’t play, the addiction to mindless entertainment that leaves us no time to love those who are dying right outside our doors, and longing for our love in our own homes.
Our absorption by the “technocratic paradigm” doesn’t just leave good deeds undone — it leaves us undone: We train ourselves to be narcissists, obsessed with the cheap pleasures that are at our constant beck and call. Our anxiety rates are historic and our suicide rates are tragic. We forget that everything we spend time with changes us — and so we are training ourselves to be numb to violence, sexually cavalier, hyper consumerists. We are training ourselves to be slaves to the world, the flesh and the devil. God help us, some are so obsessed with this that they exploit women, hurt children, and traffic in human lives.
We are actively making it impossible for ourselves to follow you.
And so, Lord Jesus, this Advent we make Isaiah’s prayer our own in a special way.
Like him, we pray: Why do you let us wander from your ways? Why do you allow us to lose the fear of God? You are angry; we are sinful. You have hidden yourself from us.
Like Isaiah, we remember that it should be different: You did such great things in the past. We believe it! Do these things again, now, in our neighborhoods.
With him, we pray that you would dispel the darkness all around us. We pray that you would win back our selfish hearts with your love. We pray: “Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down!”
Return to us, Lord Jesus. You are our Savior. Save us! We can’t do it ourselves. “We are the clay and you are the potter: We are all the work of your hands.”
They say the darkest hour is just before the dawn. Please, God, make that true. We’re listening, hard, for the rooster to crow.
Above all, as we wait, give us your Advent hope. We are not waiting in the darkness of Isaiah, we are waiting in the darkness of St. Paul. We aren’t waiting for someone we haven’t already met; we are waiting for someone who is sharing his very life with us, right now.
You did not leave us orphans. St. Paul spells it out: You give us all we need.
You give us “peace from God the Father”; and this Advent, Lord, I resolve to enter into that peace in visits to your tabernacle.
You give us “grace bestowed in Christ Jesus”; and this Advent, Lord, I will receive it more attentively than ever in your sacraments.
You have “enriched us in every way, with all discourse and knowledge”; and this Advent, Lord, I will turn off my phone and read the wisdom you gave us instead.
We wait for “the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ” but we don’t wait in hopelessness. We wait in the fellowship of Jesus Christ, who “will keep you firm to the end, irreproachable.”
Come, Lord Jesus. Come today. Come at Sunday’s Mass. Come at communion. Come in all we do, and in all we say.
Help us keep our watch in darkness for your light to overcome.
Image: Wiki-media commons.