November 27, 2021
Tomorrow is the First Sunday of Advent. The following is a homily I delivered back in 2018 on the gospel reading we have today AND will have again tomorrow (Luke 21:34-36):
I would like to begin by offering two analogies regarding today’s gospel reading.
Analogy #1: I bought a new pair of dress shoes recently. Many adults wear dress shoes every day for work. Most of us don’t have the luxury of rolling out of bed each day, putting on colorful socks, and slipping into a pair of sandals – like a certain priest I know. (Note for readers: Our former pastor, Fr. Jim Farrell, is famous for wearing sandals along with the liturgically correct color of socks)
I own a total of one pair of dress shoes at a time. I will wear that pair as long as I can, squeezing every bit of life out of them. Once I wear a hole in the soles of the shoes, I will continue to wear them for another six months. Then I buy a pair of cushioned inserts to put in the shoes and wear them for another six months. I am not a penny-pincher. There are just some things I hate to change. My former shoes were comfortable, and it took time and effort to get them to that point.
I dread buying new shoes. I know that no pair will feel as good or as comfortable as my former pair. I’ll walk funny for two weeks as I adjust to the new shoes. I’ll get blisters. Why must I be uncomfortable?
Analogy #2: When I was younger, I could drive forever without getting tired. Now I start yawning after about twenty minutes.
There is something about traveling in the car; I settle in and get comfortable. The suspension provides a smooth ride, climate control temperature, easy-listening music playing, adjustable steering wheel and seat, cruise control – everything just the way I like it. Everything that sold me on the car is now putting me in danger because it makes me sleepy.
With my work at Saint Meinrad requiring regular three-hour trips to southern Indiana, I turned to audio books for help.
The books keep me sharp and alert – or as the gospel would say, the books keep me vigilant. My senses are heightened. I am being exposed to something new; I need to pay attention or I’ll miss something. I am not only not sleepy, I arrive refreshed and ready to go.
In preparation for preaching, I make it a habit to read the readings of the day slowly to see what word or phrase jumps out at me. Sometimes it is a familiar phrase that brings to mind a memory. It might be a word or phrase I’ve never seen before. And then there are times – as is the case today – when a word or phrase seems out of place or is used in an unusual context.
In Luke’s gospel, Jesus warns his disciples, “Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy.”
A drowsy heart…
Scripture often speaks to the condition of our hearts: a deceitful heart, a pure and upright heart, a cheerful heart, a strong heart, a heart full of wisdom, and many more. But a drowsy heart?
Why did Jesus warn his disciples – warn us – not to allow our hearts to become drowsy?
Just like I cling to my old shoes for comfort, our hearts can settle for what is comfortable. The way I love God and others is always the way I’ve loved God and others – nothing more, nothing less. For you that may mean attending Mass every Sunday, leading a bible study once per month, and writing an annual check to a deserving charity.
Those are all beautiful expressions of faith, expressions I pray you’ll continue. However, Jesus warns us to beware of complacency. Should these faith “habits” become too mechanical, with no energy or thought behind them, we can slip into cruise control and create a false sense of security – “I’m sure I’ll get to heaven. All is well.” It is an attitude that can cause our hearts to become drowsy.
A heart becomes drowsy when there is nothing new to nourish it or invigorate it. Thus, Jesus encourages us to “be vigilant at all times.”
To be vigilant means keeping careful watch, to be on the lookout for danger, for anything that might get in the way of our ultimate goal of attaining heaven. Vigilance requires awareness not only of enemies and threats from the outside world, but also of the weaknesses within us – complacency, overconfidence, and drowsy hearts.
As comfortable as our old shoes are, the time will come when a change is needed. As comfortable as adjusted seats and cruise control may be, we can’t allow ourselves to become drowsy – so drowsy that we drive off the road or miss our exit.
Jesus tells us, “Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy” and “be vigilant at all times.” He is telling us, as we enter Advent, that we need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.
We need the equivalent of audio books for our faith. What can we add to our faith routine to keep us sharp and alert or expose us to something new – to keep us vigilant? What will heighten our senses? What can we do to stir our drowsy hearts?
First and foremost, prayer keeps us vigilant. For those that argue, “I don’t pray that much – I live my faith. I’m a doer.”
That’s awesome, do prayer. Praying is living your faith, too.
Prayer is an engaging conversation with God. It stimulates our relationship with Him. It prevents our hearts from becoming drowsy.
We attend Mass – that is certainly a beautiful form of communal prayer. What else can we do this Advent season?
Maybe it is time to dust off our rosaries. Maybe it is time to learn how to pray the liturgy of the hours – there is even an app for that! Maybe it is time to make time for Adoration. Or maybe it is as simple as taking ten minutes each day to sit and talk directly to God – share your hopes, dreams, worries, and anxieties.
Prayer keeps us vigilant. It is a great way to prevent a drowsy heart, but not the only way: Take advantage of opportunities to go to confession. Consider involving yourself in one of the many ministries of the parish, volunteering, visiting the sick, picking up the phone to console someone that has experienced loss, or providing a listening ear for someone going through a difficult time.
Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy. We can’t allow ourselves to become complacent. Whatever your faith practices are, add something new to the mix.
Sometimes blisters are a good thing. They show that we are active and have made necessary changes in our lives.