Sunday, December 3, 2017

Lasallian Reflection - First Sunday of Advent

In the Gospel for the First Sunday of Advent, Jesus tells his disciples: “Be watchful! Be alert!” because you don’t know when the end will come. For us, we could be watchful in anticipation for something joyful, or we could be watching for something challenging. Anything that begins anticipates an end. There will usually be an end. Endings are part of reality, so don’t pretend that they don’t exist. But ending can also be catalysts to new beginnings. The prospect of death, for example, has a wonderful way of focusing one’s attention. The daredevils of this world illustrate this all the time, declaring that they’ve never felt so alive as they do when they hover near the edge of catastrophe. It’s as if there is only a true beginning when you are faced with some sort of end, either through choice or by necessity. New life emerges. Jesus said “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.” (John 12:24)

The Advent season, this annual beginning of the Church’s liturgical year, begins with the end in mind. And it’s been doing this for centuries, even before Stephen Covey’s book about the 7 habits of highly effective people, where the same principle shows up as the 2nd habit. In its application to our spiritual lives, keeping the end in mind brings a healthy respect for what God is likely to expect of us, both now and in the future. St. John Baptist de La Salle makes this eminently clear in his meditation for the First Sunday of Advent. He says “Those whose lifespan is so uncertain should not delay to take the steps needed to insure their salvation.” (Med 1.1.) This is like the story of someone who asked “If I am to be saved, when should I repent.” The answer came: “You should be sure to repent on the day before you die.” “Well,” they said, “how can I do that when I don’t know when I’m going to die.” “That’s easy,” was the response. “Repent now!”

What does all this have to do with Advent, the waiting period that looks towards Christmas and its celebration of the birth of Christ? One way to look at Advent is to see it as a time of fostering and building up a greater awareness of God’s mysterious presence in our lives – in our friendships & relationships, in our personal habits, in our priorities, in what we read and say, in what we do and feel. This is Advent as an intentional pursuit of everything that most allows the seeds of faith to become more deeply planted within our lives, so that when we do come to celebrate Christmas, we can truly know and embrace its genuine impact on our lives. Repentance naturally follows.

Within our Lasallian context, Advent is a time to get in touch with the divine proposition that we reach God through the poor, the needy, the lowly, and the simple. Christ and the Gospel brought about what the sociologist Peter Berger called, “a cosmic redefinition of reality.” (First Things, Remembering Peter Berger – October 2017) God’s presence dwells among the poor and the powerless more than among the rich and the powerful. Christ is found in the stables of our students’ lives much more than in their mansions. The Lasallian advent happens every time we step into school, have a conversation with a student, prepare a lesson, or meet with parents. The classroom is our manger, and the students we approach with a humility and reverence like God.

The potential of Advent for us mirrors the potential we find every day as part of our Lasallian vocation. Isn’t that worth our best attention?
(Video Version HERE)