1st SUNDAY OF ADVENT (B) November 29, 2020

Isaiah 63: 16b-17, 19b; 4: 2b-7; Ps80; 1Corinthians 1: 3-9; Mark 13: 33-37

by Jude Siciliano, OP

Dear Preachers:


In our liturgical celebrations and daily prayer we frequently pray for vocations.

I live in a novitiate community of the Southern Dominican Province, USA.

I can say that I have seen visible evidence that our prayers have been heard, for we have three vibrant novices spending their first year in the Order with us.

Please join us in praying for them as they discern their vocations.

"First Impressions" is a free weekly preaching ministry. If you can help support this ministry, as well as help with the training of our novices, we would appreciate it. Please pray for us, as we do for you, our benefactors, each day.

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Dominican Friars

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Irving, Texas 75062-4736

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Thank you.

Even if you are only live streaming Mass these Sundays have you noticed the changes today? Not just the cooler weather. Not the vestments from green to violet. It is the first Sunday of Advent and we have shifted to Mark for the Sunday gospel readings. Mark is the earliest of the four Gospels and the shortest. It is only 16 chapters long, but it had a profound effect on the others. There is a great deal of emphasis in Mark on the suffering and death of Jesus and the call for disciples to follow him by taking up their cross. In the other Gospels Jesus promises blessings for those who give up houses and family for his sake. Only in Mark does Jesus indicate that with blessings there will also be persecutions (e.g. 10:30). Mark wrote his gospel around 70 A.D. and the consensus is that he wrote it for the church in Rome during Nero’s persecution. Like Mark’s first readers we find strength in God’s Word and the Eucharist to follow the way of our Master, denying self and taking up his cross of self-giving love.

During Advent and Lent the Scripture readings are more thematic. Today’s emphasize watching and waiting. Especially during these pandemic-threatened days, as we wait for a vaccine, we call out, "When are you coming to rescue us O Lord? Where are you? Why do you delay?" Jesus directs us, "Be watchful! Be alert!" For what? He urges us not to get discouraged in the overwhelming details and questions raised by these days, but to be ready to welcome him. How can we do that? We are doing that already as we try to prayerfully be attentive to the Word, respond to what we hear and watch for his entrance into our lives as we wait for his final return?

Do the powers around us really have our best interests at heart? If these crisis days have taught us anything they have shown us the debilitating effects of political wrangling and selfish interests. Those powers seem demonic with intentions to rip apart the ties that should bind us to one another like: compassion, understanding, forgiveness and communal interests. Jesus urges us to keep awake lest we let those evil-intentioned powers break into our "house." What can we do this Advent to be faithful servants who have the responsibility for the household Jesus has left in our care?

A big handicap to our spiritual growth is that we "doze off," that is, we live almost unconsciously. We are preoccupied by our routine and habitual lives and don’t notice opportunities to grow in awareness of what is happening in our world and immediately around us. If the pandemic has any good side-effects, and who wants to admit anything good can come from this horror (!), it might have awakened us and made us more watchful for how and when the Lord is coming to us throughout the day – "whether in the evening, or at midnight, or at cock crow, or in the morning."

A while back I took a friar to the hospital emergency room. We checked in and were told to take a seat and wait for an available doctor. There was quite an assortment of sick and needy people waiting with us. Some of their needs were plainly visible, bleeding wounds, a smashed wrist, etc. Others had ailments that were not obvious, but there we all were in the emergency room waiting for a skilled doctor to come to help us.

I think Advent is a waiting room like that. Some of us need help for visible ailments, other needs lie below the surface, but affect others. Here we are waiting, not sure when help will come. But he did promise he would and that gives us hope. While we wait we’ll pray for ourselves and each other that we don’t give up and remain watchful and hopeful.

During Advent those able to gather in church will sing, "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel." The prayer goes back to the late fifth, or early sixth century. It was a time of marauding Vandals, Huns and other barbarians who were pillaging, killing and also "vandalizing" the great libraries of Europe. It was a prayer for the millions forced into exile – the hymn names them – "lonely exiles." Today another pillaging pandemic has invaded every country, race and class of people. We yearn to return to our Advent warm and comfortable churches. But instead these days we are joined to our ancestors in faith pleading, like them, for deliverance. Vikings are not at our gates coming to wreak havoc. Instead, the virus has forced its way into the very inner sanctums of our homes evoking fear and a sense of impotence. What shall we do? We pray as our ancestors in faith prayed, "O Come, O Come Emmanuel."

I am sure at this time of the year we have heard more than one warning about commercialism and consumerism. Let’s presume most of the readers of these reflections are trying to avoid the secular pitfalls the season presents. Let’s also presume we are already looking for ways to preserve, even nourish, the spiritual aspects of the coming Christmas season. That is what Advent can do for us, be a time of reflection on our lives and show us changes we must make. The scripture readings through this season can help us along our path of self examination and readiness for the Lord’s coming.

We have also been told by medical experts to: be alert, wear masks, wash our hands, keep social distance, etc. Now Jesus is giving a similar kind of advice, "Be watchful! Be alert!" Many of us are very busy trying to keep our jobs, or find new ones; teach the kids at home; shop safely for food. For what else do we need to watch and be vigilant?

Advent can seem like the "same old, same old." We’ve heard the stories and sung these hymns before. Maybe that is why the first gospel of this new season calls us to wake up. We will need help to do that. Today’s Psalm response can word our prayer for the beginning of Advent, "Lord make us turn to you: let us see your face and we shall be saved."

Click here for a link to this Sunday’s readings: