Reflection for Sunday – December 3, 2023
Readings: Isaiah 63: 16b-17, 64: 2-7; 1 Corinthians 1: 3-9; Mark 13: 33-37
Preacher: Cathy Kamp
“Be watchful. Be alert!” Jesus clearly tells the disciples in this conclusion of Mark’s apocalyptic discourse that they need to live always in the knowledge that they know not the day nor the hour when he will come again. I find myself viewing this Gospel and the Advent season through the eyes of our RCIA candidates at St. Joseph’s Church.
On Christ the King Sunday, some of our candidates and catechumens gathered to discuss the readings and reflect on the combined Rites of Acceptance and Welcoming after they were dismissed from the liturgy. They were reflecting on Matthew 25 but their profound thoughts apply to this weekend’s readings too and how we approach the Advent season.
One remarked that his favorite passage in Matthew 25: 31-46 is “Amen I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.” This passage is life-changing for him in that he now realizes that joining the Catholic Church is not about the barriers that once made him apprehensive: Would he ever know when to kneel and stand? Would he know how and when to bless himself? Would he learn all the rules and rituals? Our catechumen is onto something, isn’t he? Jesus did not tell his disciples to be watchful and alert so that we don’t miss a ritual cue at Mass. Jesus was encouraging us to be always mindful and aware of what we can do for those around us– those who desperately need us to reach out and help them with basic needs like food and clothing as well as those who are poor in spirit and need our caring presence. For this one catechumen, it now makes sense. We are called to live in imitation of Christ.
Another candidate said last week’s Gospel caused her to reflect on the tendency to “add-on” ways to be charitable and service-oriented rather than making it part of her daily life. She talked about wanting to bring Christ to others. This led to a teachable moment to ponder what Jesus really said—not only that we are called to share Jesus with others but that we are to encounter him in each and every person. We are to watch and be alert for opportunities to learn from the least among us, to recognize that when we encounter the poor, we each encounter Jesus in the other.
A third candidate shared that she wants very much to simplify her life so that she can be more intentional about serving others. Simplifying our busy lives can open us to being so much more aware of the needs of others and the opportunities for meaningful encounter.
What I love about each of these reflections is that they offer me a new perspective on being watchful and alert. For me, these words about “watching” often feel future-focused – we are watching and waiting for something that may happen at any moment but in reality, the Second Coming of Jesus feels more future-oriented.
When we couple being watchful with the clear commands of Matthew 25 to tend to the needs of the impoverished and poor in spirit with corporal works of mercy, our mission as Catholics becomes clearly set in the present moment. In the here and now, we are to do each of the things our RCIA candidates already know: We are to live as Christian disciples who imitate the mercy and compassion of Jesus; we are to grow in our understanding and experience of encountering Jesus in the other; and we are to prioritize service to others over the many other responsibilities that consume our time and attention.
If we can make it our prayer and mission to follow these simple – though challenging – disciplines in the Advent season, no doubt our hearts will be ready to receive the Christ child anew at Christmas. May our prayer harken back to this weekend’s first reading from Isaiah and the concluding passage: “O Lord…we are the clay and you the potter; we are all the work of your hands.” May we offer ourselves this Advent as clay in the hands of the divine potter.