November 29, 2020 At St. Peter & St. William Churches in Naples, FL
Isaiah 63, 16-17, 19 64, 2-7, + Psalm 80 + 1 Corinthians 1, 3-9 + Mark 33-37
Most of us live with a variety of different calendar years. Depending, I suppose, on your age and your state in life, one or more of them matters more than others. When I was in school, the “School year” was all that mattered, while for my parents there were others that demanded attention. Then, when I became a priest and eventually a pastor, there was the school year, because the parish had a school. There was the fiscal year, because I had to produce reports. There was the calendar year which I’ve always thought was an odd name since all the others are on the “calendar” as well. At one parish where there was a significant population of Vietnamese people, and I learned to pay attention to the Lunar Year and a holiday called Tết, the most important celebration in Vietnamese culture. The word is a shortened form of Tết Nguyên Đán, which is Vietnamese for “Feast of the First Morning of the First Day”. All the while, as a Catholic, there is yet another “year” called “The Liturgical Year” which begins for us today. Regardless of which one might organize your life, the year behind us or shortly to be behind us as has left us all physically, emotionally, and spiritually tired. A year of upheaval, surprises, change, turmoil, anxiety, fear, confusion, disappointment, disillusionment, and detachment only begins to describe how we feel. We have run out of words, and we have been forced to “die” to so many things, routines, celebrations, customs, and sometimes relationships. Our familiar ways, our security has been shaken forcing us into the unknown.
As I have reflected on this, it seems to me that we are a bit like the Israelites wandering in the desert for forty years. Wondering where we are going and how long it will take to get there. On top of that, we’re not even sure than when we get there we will like it, but we can hope. What we have discovered is that the mess we are in is not something we can fix on our own. Some would like to try it, but that only makes it worse. Some really struggle and resist learning that lesson.
For us, people of faith, there comes this message today that encourages us to stay awake and watch. Some may wonder and ask the question: “Watch and wait for what?” The current pandemic, political struggles, and Church concerns all find us waiting for solutions to problems, resolutions to conflicts, vaccines for disease, and leadership that can truly be effective and trusted. These are worthy pursuits and necessary, they are all worldly, and they raise hopes that can easily bring disappointment. People of faith know that real hope is found somewhere else.
My friends, the Divine Light that burns within every soul cannot be extinguished. We begin this new year of our faith with the reminder that by Love’s power we will discover something that will make sense. Real hope rests on the firm belief that we are hard-wired for union with God and that God’s will is always creative and sustains what we do. This is the only way we can ever see light in dark moments when people all around us are giving up and walking away. Our hope in faith is joyfully rooted in God’s promise that allows us to watch and wait. It gives us reason to stay the course, even when we may want to just close our eyes and get some sleep hoping to wake up and find that this year has just been a bad dream.
In a moment of divine inspiration St. Paul told us that three things will last: faith, hope, and love. They are three intimate companions on our journey through this life. They are gifts given to us who believe. They help us stay strong, simple, and focused on what matters when everything else is out of control. This is the power that brought Israel out of the land of Egypt, inspired prophets to speak the truth, raised Jesus from the dead, and sent the Gospel to a weary world. If we have to express in words what we can watch and wait for it is very simple. It is how we get through all suffering and even face death. Six words in English say it all: The Best is Yet to Come.