A reading from the holy Gospel according to Mark:
Jesus said to his disciples:
“Be watchful! Be alert!
You do not know when the time will come.
It is like a man traveling abroad.
He leaves home and places his servants in charge,
each with his own work,
and orders the gatekeeper to be on the watch.
you do not know when the Lord of the house is coming,
whether in the evening, or at midnight,
or at cockcrow, or in the morning.
May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping.
What I say to you, I say to all: ‘Watch!’”
I have always been afraid of being caught unprepared. When I was in high school, I had a recurring dream – nightmare, really – that I would come in to class one morning and find out there was a test that day. Everyone else knew about it; everyone else had studied for it; everyone else was ready for it. I never got the memo. I would wake up in a panic, absolutely certain that there was a major exam and I was not ready.
In college, I had the same sort of dream… but it had changed. Instead of not being ready for a test, suddenly it was the end of the semester and I realized I had a class I had forgotten all about. I had signed up for it, but then forgotten that I did and I had never once been to class. Never once completed an assignment. I had completely forgotten it until it was time to take the final, then I remembered it just in time to discover that I couldn’t even find the classroom.
Next came grad school, and the nightmares continued. I was working on my Master of Sacred Theology degree and – sure enough – I’d have nightmares that I came to class and found out there was an unexpected test. But this time I was ready for it! I studied every night. I read everything on the required reading lists and most everything on the suggested reading list. There was no way I was not ready for anything they could throw at me… or so I thought… until the professor handed out the test and it was in Koine Greek.
After that, it was off to the seminary. Guess what. Same sort of dream. There was a project I was supposed to have complete and I didn’t. Everyone else had his done. I hadn’t even started. You would think a monk would have a little bit of sympathy, but not in my dream world. Nope. Not only was there no sympathy, but Brother Cyprian laughed at me. If any of you know Brother Cyprian, you know why that is so terrifying.
Before a man is ordained, Canon Law states that he must have an individual meeting with the bishop who will ordain him. The night before my canonical meeting, I dreamed I got to the Catholic Center and my entire class was there, all seated at desks. I sat down at the last desk and, just as I did, the classroom door opened and in came Deacon Ralph in his Master of Ceremonies vestments, swinging an incense censer. The Bishop was behind him, wearing his most formal and ornate vestments and his bishop’s miter, walking with his crozier, and handing out Number 2 pencils for the final exam I’d never been told about.
“Be watchful! Be alert!” Our Lord tells us. “You do not know when the time will come.” We know that Our Lord will return; we do not know when. Our Lord wants us to be prepared for His return. He may not come for another thousand years. He might return in the next minute.
Do we live as if Christ may come in the next minute? Does our nation conduct its affairs in a manner that would reflect credit upon it if Christ were to return today? Or would we be more likely to cry out with Isaiah: “Behold, you are angry, and we are sinful; all of us have become like unclean people, all our good deeds are like polluted rags; we have all withered like leaves, and our guilt carries us away like the wind. There is none who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to cling to you; for you have hidden your face from us and have delivered us up to our guilt.”
Ouch. Our good deeds are like polluted rags. Our guilt carries us away. Maybe the reason that passage hurts is because it hits so close to home. Is Isaiah describing our nation, which more and more turns its back on God? Will we be delivered up to our guilt?
You might say to me, Deacon, that’s other people… but it’s not me. I would never abandon God. I would never turn away from Jesus. Good. But is there more that can be done? And you might say to me, Deacon – what more can I do? I pray every day. I go to Mass every Sunday. I give money to charity and to support the parish. The country is so big and Washington is so far away. Besides, congress and the president would never listen to me. There’s just no more that I can do.
And that is true… as far as it goes. But it is not the whole story. This nation is big. Very big. But it’s built on states, and they aren’t nearly as big. And the states are made up of counties. And the counties are made up of communities. And the communities are made up of families. So you could fairly say that the entire nation is based on the family, and if there is something wrong in the nation then there is something wrong in the family. And all of us can work to improve the family.
How? Paul gives us a very good insight in the second reading, an epistle as much to us as was to the Corinthians: “in him you were enriched in every way, with all discourse and all knowledge, as the testimony to Christ was confirmed among you, so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
What is a spiritual gift? Prophecy, Serving, Teaching, Exhortation, Giving, Leadership, Mercy, Wisdom, Knowledge, Faith, Healing, Miracles, Prophecy, Discernment… and the list goes on. We aren’t given these gifts to lord them over others and to never use them. We aren’t given these gifts to impress others; we are given these gifts to serve others and to bring others to Christ.
In and through Our Savior, God will keep us firm to the end, irreproachable on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. For the Lord is our Father. As Isaiah writes, “we are the clay and you the potter: we are all the work of your hands.”
And so let us all work hard, or even harder. Let us all thank God daily for the many graces and blessings He gives us. Let us work for the good of each other, and for the good of all families. It is these small acts that when taken all together will transform our nation and our world.
Most of all, let cry out to God with the psalmist, “Lord, make us turn to you; let us see your face and we shall be saved.” Let us pray that we are never separated from the love of God, who loves us and desires that each and every one of us watch for Him to come and to live as if that will happen this very day.
Jesus teaches us “you do not know when the Lord of the house is coming, whether in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning. May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to all: ‘Watch!’”
We may not know the hour of the Lord’s coming, but we do know that we are closer to it today than we were yesterday. And we know that it will surely come. We know that we must be prepared, always and in every way. And so we watch, we work, and we pray. For we do not want Christ to find us sleeping when He comes.