This homily was given by Fr. Joseph Feders OSB on 2 December 2018 (1 Advent B) at St. Paul's Monastery. It is shared with permission.
Life, A Continuous Advent
According to Saint Benedict, “The life of a monastic ought to be a continuous Lent.” However, if we look at his Rule in its totality, rather than a continuous Lent, what Benedict presents is monastic life as a continuous Advent.
From the opening word of his Rule until the concluding chapter, like Jesus in today’s gospel, Benedict encourages his disciples “to be vigilant at all times.” This vigilance manifests itself in various ways including:
- careful listening,
- attentiveness to prayer,
- prompt obedience,
- watchful care over words and actions,
- being the first to show respect to others,
- and readily seeing Christ in every person we meet.
Joan Chittister shares the story of a traveler who one day stopped at a monastery and asked an elder for a word of wisdom that would guide the rest of the journey*:
The elder nodded affably, and though it was a day of silence took a sheet of paper and wrote on it a single word, “Awareness.”
“Awareness?” the traveler said, perplexed.
“That’s far too brief.
“Couldn’t you expand on that a bit?”
So, the elder took the paper back and wrote: “Awareness, awareness, awareness.”
“But what do these words mean?” the traveler insisted.
Finally, the elder reached for the paper and wrote, clearly and firmly,
“Awareness, awareness, awareness means… Awareness! (exclamation point).”
To live life as a continuous Advent means nurturing our awareness of Christ’s presence in his three comings – in history, in daily life and at the end of time. Unfortunately, what frequently hampers our awareness and attempts at vigilance are drowsy hearts and the anxieties of daily life.
It’s helpful to remember that whatever preoccupies us has become our god, and that is usually god spelled with a small g. To be able to pause and ask, “What is the cause of my anxiety?” is a good place to start. To name something makes it real. To name something can also take away some of its power.
Our daily anxieties and preoccupations exist on many levels including personal, communal, national and global, and so often they happen concurrently. As we struggle with a health issue, we may be anxious about a community discernment process. On top of these concerns, we may worry about the needs of the advancing caravan of migrants and refugees from Central America and be further distressed by the recent catastrophic hurricanes and wild fires on the two coasts. And then there is the ongoing scandal of clergy sexual abuse, the subsequent mishandling and cover-up, and the lack of transparency and accountability by the hierarchy.
When we identify our anxieties and place them alongside “The Lord our justice,” hopefully, we gain a new perspective. Faith, and not fear, is the proper response of God’s people when things seem to be collapsing around us. As the prophet Jeremiah proclaims in today’s first reading, our God “will fulfill the promise.”
As we continue this Eucharist and Advent season, let us pray for greater awareness, and trust—trust in God’s faithfulness. May God strengthen our hearts to be blameless in holiness so that we may increase and abound in love. Then, when we come to celebrate once again our Savior’s birth, we can confidently stand ready and raise our heads because our redemption is at hand.
*Source: Joan Chittister, OSB, Wisdom Distilled from the Daily: Living the Rule of St. Benedict Today, (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1991), 68.
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