By Father Brendan McGuire
Pastor of Holy Spirit Parish, San Jose, and Vicar General for Special Projects, Diocese of San Jose.
In Ecuador, there is a small village at the foot of Mount Tungurahua, which is an active volcano that spews dust about 50% of the time. The villagers in the town are in a constant state of alert. They have their bags packed with all the extra medications, flashlights, and essential supplies for a certain number of days. At any moment they are ready to grab that bag and run. They even know the best and safest escape route to clear and higher ground.
One would think this constant state of alertness would have them very stressed out, literally on edge that it would take a toll on their well-being. But in fact, the villagers have a great sense of balance and while they are prepared, they go about their regular duties of life. They are doctors and nurses, teachers, innkeepers, storekeepers, and they go about their everyday life. Yet they are always prepared that this could be their last day. But it does not paralyze them. In fact, it seems to actually enrich their lives. The families are exuberant with joy. They have a constant joy of living in the present moment with the reality that it could all come to an end so fast. That balance between the reality of living and the alertness of the finality of the mountain exploding one more time.
Today we begin our Advent journey in preparation for Christmas. Listening to today’s Gospel, we are called to that same balance: to prepare for the ultimate return of the Lord, but not to paralyze us from doing and living in the present moment. In fact, if we get this balance right, we will be even more invigorated by living in the present moment, because we are savoring every moment as a possible last moment. We are living in the present. What does this balance or preparation look like? The preparation for the final time is in the very dramatic language in today’s Gospel, “One will be taken and one will be left behind.” Whether it be a woman or a man, basically we will not know the time or the hour.
In the second reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans, he tells us to not get caught up with jealousy or petty rivalries. He says to focus on Christ: “Put on Christ.” He was very present in every moment to whoever came to him, whether a Pharisee or a poor person or a widow or a lord. He was always in the moment, the reality of the moment. And at the same time, he always was prepared to meet his Father.
Today, we come to the table once more and we begin this four-week preparation for Christmas. We take the very beginning of our liturgical year and before we do anything else, we stop and prepare for the Christ’s birth. By increasing our prayer and looking and reflecting upon the present reality, we put on Christ and balance our waiting with our living in the present moment.