Many people dream of Hawaii - palm trees, sandy beaches, hula dancing, sun shining, ocean waves... Many call it paradise. And it is true. Hawaii is a very beautiful place. But behind the aloha spirit, behind the tourism facade, there is reality. Like everywhere else. And reality means pain, satisfactions, suffering. Tuesday, 9.30am. An emergency call came into the rectory. In a few minutes times I found myself in this medical center. A man, sixty years old, was completely distraught. He was bashing his head against the wall. "It's all my fault," he was constantly repeating. "I should be in there, not her. This is terrible. Oh God!" His wife had just been rushed into hospital because she found out that he had been fooling around with another woman for the last two years. When I went in to see her, she looked so scary. What could I say?
Two days later, this other woman came to speak to me about her sister. A very successful woman with a great job, mother of three kids, fifty years old, she had just left her family to go and live with her lesbian girlfriend. When her sister approached her and told her of the pain she was causing, her answer was forthright : "Listen! I have been giving myself for fifty years. I am fed up! I want to make the most of the rest of my life. I want to live now for me..." What can you answer?
This is what many people think. "I was born one day. I shall die on another day. In the meantime, I want to enjoy every minute of it. After death there is nothing. We die and we finish like a dog." This is what many people live. Is this true?
This Advent 1998, coming just 400 days before the year 2000 comes to ask us basically the same question. What is life all about?
All of us have a certain number of years, months, days to live. We cannot alter that. What are they for? What shall I do with them? Are we supposed to just wake up in the morning, go to school or go to work, return home and go back to bed? Five days a week with a weekend in between to finish off all the chores? Trying in the meantime to suck off a little bit of pleasure here and a little bit of gratification there? Is that all there is to life?
Well, Jesus Christ seems to say no! He sees in us a tendency to drowse off, to depreciate life, to cheapen life. To make life smaller. To slip into the routine of ordinary life and miss the opportunity of life itself!
This is why in Matthew 24, He says: "Wake up! Keep awake!"
God had bigger ideas about us when He created us. He had this wonderful vision of building a wonderful relationship between Himself and us here on earth. He built everything in our favor. He planned every single detail of our life so that we can really make the most out it. And then, one day, He says, He is coming to take us up with Him for ever. To continue this adventure in heaven.
He gave us this time here for one very simple reason. To find Him. To discover how beautiful it is to live with Him. There is only ONE thing which is important and meaningful in life. And this is not to make money or to make success or to build a family or to have children or to have your name appear in the papers... The only important thing is to find and love Jesus Christ. Everything else is vanity. To be a priest vanity, to be married vanity, to have children vanity, to make money vanity, to have a huge mansion vanity, to be a computer wizard vanity... These are all useless and worthless unless they help us to love HIM always more - the most handsome, the most caring, the most tender of all men. He is a Lover who wants to create a serious affectionate relationship with us.
This is what life is all about - to fall in love with Jesus Christ.
The problem is that very few of us are really interested in this love. Very few really make finding Jesus and His love the scope of their life. We have other compasses in life. We mistake the pawns for the King!
And hence very few really expect Him. We expect our pay check, we expect the results of our exams, we expect good health, we expect fewer problems... but really, who is expecting the coming of Jesus Christ? The Gospel gives us this mini parable. If someone gets a clue that a robber is coming by night to steal his home, he will remain awake all night, so that when the robber comes and sees the lights on, he will turn his back and drop the idea.
Saint Augustine puts it in a very simple way : "There is a kind of sleep proper to the soul, and another proper to the body. The sleep of the soul consists in forgetting about God [...], whereas the soul who has stayed awake knows who its Maker is [...]. But, just as he who sleeps [...], although the sun has already risen and the day is already hot, thinks it is still night, because he is not awake to see the new-born day, so there are some people who, even though Christ is here and the truth is being preached, are still asleep as far as their soul is concerned [...]. Your life, your behavior, should be awake in Christ so that others--sleepy pagans--can see it and the sound of your watchfulness cause them to get up and throw their sleepiness and begin to say with you in Christ: O God, my God, since dawn I have kept watch for you" ("Enarrationes in Psalmos", 62, 4).
The real healthy attitude of every Christian is this attitude of expectation, tension, awaiting HIM, vigilance. He came once in Israel, He will come again on the last day. He wants also to come constantly in our lives to embellish it, to enhance it. This is what Advent is all about.
We have only one life. This life will never come back. Live life for the reason it was meant to be lived!
To keep this attitude of expectation alive, I invite you to do one simple thing this Advent. Between lovers there are always secrets known to them only. You remember when you were in love you used to share your secrets, there were things which only you two knew about. Well do the same with Jesus. Have your own secrets with Him. Make small sacrifices which only He will ever know. Your wife is tired.. go and wash the plates yourself out of love for Jesus. Your husband likes to watch that TV program.. Let him watch it in peace out of love for Jesus Christ. The lawn needs to be mowed, the leaves have be raked, the car needs a washing, the home has to be tidied out, your kids would like to go out for the evening... just go and do it out of love towards Jesus Christ. Give alms in secret, help out the poor without your right hand knowing what the left is doing, pray in secret, wake up at night and spend five minutes in prayer without anyone knowing... and the Father who sees what you do in secret, He will repay you.
So this Advent will acquire a beautiful meaning. It will become a love story between you and Him who always loved you! Which after all is the whole real meaning of life.
Stupid? Eccentricity? Illusion? Maybe yes!
And maybe not!
(c) Fr. Pius Sammut, OCD. Permission is hereby granted for any non-commercial use, provided that the content is unaltered from its original state, if this copyright notice is included.