Welcome to a “new year!” Today, on this First Sunday of Advent, the church embarks on a new Liturgical year, taking our focus this year primarily from the gospel of St. Mark. (The Liturgical calendar is based on three-year cycle, commonly noted by Cycle A-Matthew, Cycle B- Mark, and Cycle C- Luke. St. John’s gospel is intertwined amidst all the cycles.) What intrigues me about the opening of Mark’s gospel for this First Sunday of Advent to “launch” this new year, this new season, is the emphasis on being “watchful and alert.” In other words, Advent and this piece from Mark’s gospel today calls us to be more attentive. And for a guy like me who has always been a pretty avid “day dreamer,” (especially in class!) hearing again the challenge to be more attentive and alert is always a welcomed message!
When you think about it, being watchful and alert is really a tremendously powerful statement for us to hear. It may (or may not) presume that perhaps we have been “asleep at the wheel” in this journey called life. “Waking up” to the world around us and to the church we are called to create is really a life-long task. Mark’s gospel is not just focused on the end times or looking for something magical or metaphysical to happen. Jesus wanted to challenge his friends to be attentive, be mindful, be cognizant of a world that cries out for justice and hungers for peace. Being watchful and alert is not just focusing on the Second Coming, the Parousia, but more importantly it is about looking attentively for ways to bring forth this thing called the Kingdom of God. That is not pious theological language to speak of some future place or that which lies in some yet unknown world. Be Watchful and Be Alert to the moments when God speaks to us through another person and through an experience that captures our attention like no other. Be Watchful and Be Alert to an opportunity in which we can bring forth something of the Holy. We have these moments all the time, every day, in every way.
I am also mindful of the fact that today begins the new language we have been asked to incorporate in our communal worship known as the Mass. Though I am writing this column without having first celebrated Mass with the new linguistic alterations, I just have feeling that it is going to sound a bit odd. Perhaps that will be (or was) your experience today? Change can be difficult, I know. I am a creature of habit like many of you. And while I was not looking forward to these Liturgical changes, I am challenged by the words of Mark’s gospel today on this first Sunday: be watchful; be alert. In other words, maybe the gift being given to us by this new Roman Missal is that I can no longer take for granted the prayers I have memorized for all these years. Not that memorization is a bad thing; it is not. But maybe the challenge I am feeling is that I have to be “more awake, more watchful; more alert” to what I am praying and how I am praying it! I am hoping and praying this First Sunday of the new year, with these new linguistic styles, will help me to be more mindful of my prayer and the prayer we share together in our Sunday worship. And remembering what I shared with the people of Old St. Pat’s a few weeks ago: beyond any linguistic changes, real church is created by US, you and me together, inspired by the spirit, and bringing the best we have. May the language of our heart, the language of our hospitality, language of our music, and the language of our preaching continue to mold us and shape us into the people that God is calling us to be.
Fr. Tom Hurley