Sunday Sermon for November 27, 2011, the First Sunday of Advent, Year B

Readings: Is 63:16b-17, 19b, 64:2-7; 1Cor 1:3-9; Mk 13:33-37

In the Gospel reading today our Lord tells us that we have to be watchful and alert because we do not know when the time will come. This sounds straight forward enough, but the problem is that human nature, being what it is, tends to become soft and lazy. We all know how things go: we are alert for a while, but if nothing happens we start getting a bit sloppy, then we get distracted, then we generally give up our watchfulness.

God, of course, is just a bit smarter than we are, so He knows that this is the way human beings operate. After 2000 years we are still hearing our Lord tell us to remain alert. After so many generations have passed before us without any fulfillment of what was spoken by our Lord, and with no sign of His intervening in our own day, people are no longer getting sloppy and lazy, they are walking away from their posts.

Isaiah asks the Lord why He allows the people to wander from His ways, harden their hearts, and no longer fear the Lord. Like any of us, Isaiah suggests that God should rend the heavens and come down with the mountains quaking before Him. This would certainly get our attention, but God has worked in marvelous ways throughout history and we keep forgetting. What God is looking for from us is fidelity, not awe at some display of divine power. He wants us to love Him for Who He is, not for what He does.

So today, like in Isaiah’s day, we have people walking away from the Lord in droves and it seems that God does not care. Of course He does, but He is testing our faith. If things were too easy, or if He was working signs and wonders regularly, it might not require much faith on our part. Instead, He is allowing the world to go its way and He gives each of us the choice to go with the world or to remain with Him. We know that the better thing is to stay with Him, but those who follow the world seem to have it easier or even better.

All of the material wealth and worldly comfort cannot advance the spiritual life. However, privation, ridicule and humiliation cause profound spiritual growth. If we get caught comparing ourselves to those who have given into the ways of the world, we will tend to notice our difficulties and their ease. This might cause us to think they have chosen the better part. On the natural level that might seem true, but we have to look at the spiritual level.

If we can recall the purpose of our existence on earth, i.e., to know, love and serve God in this world so that we can be happy with Him in the next, it will help us to keep our perspective proper. If we can focus on maintaining and augmenting our spiritual lives then the promise of St. Paul in the second reading will be ours: God will keep you firm to the end and irreproachable on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.

This means that we do not have to be literally watching for Him to return; rather, it means that we need to be faithful in fulfilling what He has asked of us. This is exactly what He tells us in the Gospel reading that He has done. He has gone on a long journey and has given to each of us our work that He wants us to fulfill. If He returns and finds us doing what He has assigned us to do, then we will be blessed. If He returns and we are not being faithful, then we will find ourselves put outside where those who are unfaithful and untrustworthy can be found.

As the world spirals more and more out of control and as more people wander from our Lord’s way, we must recognize that we are very weak and, like the rest, we can easily be swept away by the tide that presses against us. Simply put, we are not strong enough to remain faithful without the help of God. Trying to rely on natural strength to fight a supernatural battle will not work. Trying to use natural strength will only result in caving in to natural weakness.

Our only hope is the strength that comes from God. This will not be through the rending of the heavens and impressing us with power. Instead, it will come through lives of prayer and penance wherein we come to know just how weak we are and learn to rely on God for everything. This is the only way to insure that we will be kept faithful till the end and irreproachable on the day of the Lord.

Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit