By Kristin Upah
For The Catholic Messenger
“BEEP, BEEP, BEEP!” I flop my hand over the snooze button on my alarm clock. I eventually gain the momentum to begrudgingly roll out of bed and pump myself with coffee to start another routine day of physical therapy classes.
I’m already preoccupied with all I have to get done today in order to prepare for the big tests and projects I have coming up.
The Gospel this first Sunday of Advent functions much like an alarm. Jesus calls his disciples to, “Be watchful! Be alert . . . You do not know when the Lord of the house is coming” (Mk 13:33, 35).
Two-thousand years later, many are still waiting for the Lord to come. Predictions of his coming can become an obsession. With all the pain and suffering in the world, many see this world as a test to be endured or merely tolerated until Christ comes again or death sweeps one to heaven. In fact, the first reading from Isaiah this Sunday in a certain respect shares this attitude in mourning the woeful state of humanity and in asking God to “rend the heavens and come down” (Is 63:19).
The Gospel tells us to be watchful. To only be watchful for a one-time grandiose manifestation of God that signals the end of the world and all suffering is a limited perspective. Paul in the second reading reminds the Corinthians that the grace of God has already been bestowed on them (1 Cor 1:4). God’s grace is already present to us today. Thus, we must be mindful of Christ’s presence now.
There are many ways to miss Christ’s presence. Hardened hearts, self-absorption, noise, routine and fear may all be obstacles. Advent draws us outside of ourselves and deeper into God’s grace. Have you taken the time to marvel at the fact you are a relatively miniscule creature spiraling around on a massive rock? Did the beauty of the frost crystal on your windshield this morning take your breath away? When was the last time you reflected on the innumerable number of cells functioning on a micro-level to somehow sustain your life?
This is not to deny that there is also much pain and suffering that can obscure the ever-present beauty. There are children dying of curable illnesses. Natural disasters wipe out the homes and lives of innocent people. Some are not afforded the opportunity to work. Other workers struggle to make ends meet.
Discrimination prevents many from reaching their full potential. These people in need may be complete strangers or they may be our friends and family members.
The choice in how to respond to this sorrowful reality and apparent lack of control is ours. We may choose to despair and live in fear, praying for God to single-handedly take care of our problems for us in ostentatious ways.
We may also choose to hope and take action, opening our hearts to let God’s grace work through us. Paul says we have been called to enter into fellowship with Christ (1 Cor 1:9).
One way we can do this is by choosing to be a member of Christ’s body and to increase our awareness of the needs of those around us. We can choose to listen to those who cry for help and respond to the pervading unjust suffering. We can have courage in this for we are not lacking in any spiritual gift, and Christ will keep us firm to the end (1 Cor 1:7-8).
Don’t fall into the snare of routine and self-pity. Don’t be allured into thinking each day is the same.
Life on this earth is anything but ordinary. There is beauty all around; there are people in need. Respond to the alarm. The Lord of love is waiting to be encountered. Open your eyes, and you will see. You will be transformed; your heart will be set free. Be watchful. Be alert.
(Kristin Upah is a student at St. Ambrose University, Davenport. She is double majoring in behavioral neuroscience and theology, working toward a Doctor of Physical Therapy degree, and is president of Ambrosians for Peace and Justice.)