What Does It Mean to be Vigilant?
Today we begin the season of Advent. This time which begins every liturgical year also calls us to look expectantly at the second coming of the Lord while we remember the first coming of the Lord at Christmas.
In the Gospel, Jesus calls us to be vigilant. He commands us to watch, but what does that mean? It means to always live as if we will stand before the judgement seat of God today. Those words can seem quite ominous and they can strike fear into the hearts of good Catholics, but that should not be the case at all.
When we look at the words of Jesus, we can see the defining point of those whom he welcomes and those whom he casts out, it is rooted in friendship with Christ. It comes down to the whole concept of whether Jesus says to us “I’ve been waiting for this moment, welcome” or “I never knew you.”
The other question is how well we are fulfilling the task at hand. Are we acting as his witnesses to others so they will be invited to seek to know him, or are we just living the rules of a faith zombie-like.
The ultimate deciding point for us to know about whether we are being vigilant is How well we know Jesus. Just as we ask if he will welcome us with expectant open arms of loving friendship, we can ask the question if we see him in the same way. So this is not an attitude of trembling fear about that moment. It is an attitude of expectation joy of the moment that means more to us than any other in our life. It is joyful expectation.
It is imagining the greatest moment in our life and preparing for it. It is realizing as Jesus says that this moment is the one we treasure the most in our expectations.
When we look at the moment this way, then the warning to be vigilant is not taken in fear, but in joyful expectation in all we do for Him as we prepare for this moment.
However, it is also recognizing that without our co-operation others will not share in this moment and so we will do all we can to lead others there: This is being fruitful.
This is what evangelization is all about and the best way we live it is to live in the joyful expectation of that moment and to let that joyful expectation be contagious.
St. Paul writing while in prison and in chains teaches us that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. Therefore, He wants us to be joyful in expectation of that moment. In fact our prayer-life and Bible study and sacramental life are all ways that we grow more familiar with Christ personally and within the community so that we also grow in expectation of that moment. Therefore, we grow in love of Him. We stay vigilant by just living out of that love by default.
It is then there is no question that we will be vigilant because we are awaiting that moment in joyful expectation.
However, how do we do this?
First we need to understand, as St. Alphonsus teaches, that if we look at the Catholic life as one that is joyless and draws us away from everything that is fun, we are doing it wrong.
We can invite the Lord everyday into our lives and ask Him to be with us in every good and bad experience. We recognize that our most painful moments are ones that are softened by bringing this pain and confusion to the Lord and growing through it to be deeper in love with Christ. It is in inviting the Lord into our joyful times ad being thankful for them. It is in ending our day not focusing on everything we did wrong, but on being thankful for all that benefitted us and asking the Lord to lead us everyday to know his love and presence.
It also means being open to what we must change to see Him better. This means that we remove every attitude, practice and vice we have in our lives that is clouding over our vision that we may see Him. It also means that we can do none of this on our own, we need the help of His grace to see what we need to change in our lives and to change it with His grace. It also means that nothing is going to change overnight. This is why confession and Mass are so important, they are avenues of God’s grace to help us to draw closer to Him. We cannot do it without these attitudes.
So, we draw closer to Him at Mass, feel his healing forgiveness in Confession, draw him into our family meal time in prayer and ask him to guard us at work, school and home.
It is through doing this that we grow in our friendship with Christ, and as we do, we recognize how real He is in our life. Then we are not looking in fear and trepidation to thatday, but in joyful expectation to that day in which we will finally be experiencing that moment to which we have been in anticipation throughout our life.
The day does not catch us off guard, because we have wanted it to come us everyday. We realize that our entire life is preparing us for that day and we want as many people there to share it with us as they share it with us as possible. So we life in friendship with Christ in powerful vigilance and joyful expectation for that day.
Therefore, we do not look at our encounter with the Lord as something like the guard at the gate of the fort looks with trepidation at the dust cloud on the horizon. He knows that is enemy coming to destroy overrun the gates and destroy the city. No we are like the guard who sees the dust cloud and tells everyone that our wait is over our freedom is approaching and the Lord who we have been waiting for to lead us to the greatest joy is just moments away. This is the attitude of advent to those of us who seek Christ and it is this attitude that we want to share with the rest so they can join us in the same party of expectation.
This is a good week to ask the Lord every morning to make our advent and Christmas seasons fruitful by adding that intention in our daily prayer and bible study.