Saturday, November 26, 2011

Carpe diem! "Seize the day!" (Reflections on the First Sunday of Advent, Mark 13:33-37)

"Be watchful; be alert! You do not know when the time will come....You do not know when the Lord of the house is coming, whether in the evening, or at midnight, or in the morning....May he not come and find you sleeping!"

There’s a reason folks go crazy shopping on “Black Friday”—they don’t want to miss out on a good deal. They wake up early to get to the store, or sometimes they camp out near the store entrance itself the night before. The lines are long, the merchandise is limited, patience can wear thin, and sometimes people even get hurt like that Walmart greeter who got stampeded to death a couple of years ago.

All the craziness is for the sake of getting the best deal one can find and saving a few bucks. One of my students from Providence emailed me saying she went to bed very early Thanksgiving night so she could get up at 2 am as they were handing out tickets at 3 am. She said she managed to snatch some pretty good deals.

Each year, we hear people lamenting about the commercialization of the holidays—though its been quite muted these last two or three years because of the economic downturn. Still the “shopping culture” for the holidays remains pretty strong—and so we should probably do our best to maintain the true religious meaning of the season—especially in our families. But we shouldn’t bad-mouth the holiday shopping season either; yes, including Black Friday.

People do have a great time shopping, and many do save by looking out for the best deals around. There’s no need to join those who protest consumerism by observing “Buy Nothing Day” either. In fact, I propose that instead of bewailing the consumerist mindset that’s sure to prevail throughout the holiday season (something which we simply can’t do anything about), we could perhaps learn something from those who do shop like mad on Black Friday and all throughout the coming weeks.

What’s the key to getting good deals this time of year? Two words: “being aware”, (or “being awake”) that means being on the constant lookout for the best deals around—especially since most of these are limited. Like those who got up in the very early hours of Friday to get to the stores as soon as they could, the Gospel reading uses an interesting word to describe what our attitude in life should be: “being awake”—literally “being sleepless” in the original Greek tongue.

We begin today, the season of waiting, of being awake, the Season of Advent. The readings at mass during the week and on Sundays—until Christmas—will focus our attention on “being ready”, “being prepared”, “being watchful” for the coming of Christ—not only at Christmas, but at the end of all things.

It’s a season in which we as Christians prepare ourselves spiritually to celebrate Christ’s birth. Today’s Gospel advises us: “Be ready, be awake. Do what you have to do, not later, but now. Do not postpone things till later because later may never come”. Like many Black Friday deals, “when they're gone, they're gone”.

The old Romans had a saying that could be meaningful for us this Advent and throughout the year: “Carpe Diem”, they would say. “Seize the day”. “Seize the moment”. Make every moment count. Don’t wait till later because it may never come.

In October of 1998, a couple of weeks after I returned from studies abroad, my grandmother died. She had wanted so much to see me when I came home from Belgium, but she had a very bad second stroke and was bedridden and unable to speak or move when I came home in September. I did pay her a visit as soon as I arrived, and promised I was going to come back. But I kept putting my next visit till later, until one evening I was out, I received a call from my mom that my grandmother had passed away.

To this day, it is one of the greatest regrets I have; but also because of that I promised that I would never miss an opportunity to be with the ones I love, to be patient with them, to be present with them when I can, and to let them feel and know I love them and care for them. I won’t be seeing my grandmother again until we’re reunited in heaven, but I can certainly live a life of “readiness” and of being constantly “awake” to the opportunities I still have to love people, whether they’re family, friends, or just about anybody.

Perhaps there’s something you’ve always wanted to do, for yourselves or for someone else, but have never gotten around to doing it. Advent encourages us: “Do it now!”

Perhaps there’s someone whom you need to forgive or from whom you need to ask forgiveness. Advent reminds us: “Do it now!”

Maybe there’s a good or charitable or kind or generous thing you’ve been meaning to do but have been putting of constantly. Advent tells us: “Do it now!”

Like a lot of good deals and bargains on the many shopping days of this holiday season, “when the opportunity’s gone, it’s gone”.

While God will always be there for us; life and its many great opportunities won’t; they only come once in a while, and so we must “seize the day”, “make every moment count”.

Do not wait till later, because a lot of times, later never comes.

Seize the day! Do not let life pass you by.

"The Kingdom of Heaven is a condition of the heart." (Friedrich Nietzsche)