Summary: Staying awake to the spiritual.
Seeds for Sowing, Vol. V, Issue 1, No. 1
First Sunday of Advent - Year C
December 3, 2000
* Jer. 33:14-16
* Thess.3:2 - 4:2
* Lk. 21:25-28, 34-36
A Watchful Heart
In our Gospel reading, Jesus tells us to watch ourselves. Have you ever tried to watch yourself? It’s very hard, isn’t it? The only way to really watch yourself is to look into a mirror. Then you can see how you look. This gives you quite a different perspective. Of course, Jesus is not asking us to carry a mirror around with us. That’s not the kind of watching of self that he is talking about. Jesus wants us to watch our lives, our behaviour, our attitudes, our way of thinking and feeling. All of these things can be summarized by saying that Jesus wants us to watch our hearts. A mirror will just not help with this task. At least not a physical mirror.
What we really need is a mirror that will enable us to see our hearts. Sometimes that mirror can be found in the person of a friend, a husband or wife, or a spiritual director. These people can, at times, be accurate reflectors of what is going on within us. If we are at all unsure of how our heart looks, then a good place to start our discovery is to find a personal mirror--someone whom we trust and with whom we can be honest. This may not be an easy task, but the rewards of having someone like that in your life can be tremendous.
The other mirror we all need is the mirror of prayer. When we are alone with God in prayer, then we allow ourselves to be transparent--to be seen as we are. We all know that God sees the depths of our hearts. In prayer we have to be honest. If we are not, then we are not really praying. So when we place ourselves with sincerity in God’s presence, we should listen very carefully to our thoughts and feelings. It is there that we will discover our true selves.
When Jesus asks us to watch ourselves lest our hearts be coarsened or hardened, he is talking about the quality of our hearts as insensitive or sensitive. The hard heart is the heart that has lost its sensitivity to others. It no longer feels the pain and problems of others. This kind of heart is closed to others. It is closely guarded, and whenever it senses that someone else’s pain or trouble is near, it tightly shuts its door. It tells itself that it cannot afford to be sensitive to the suffering and worry of others.
Jesus is quite aware that our hearts have to always remain sensitive and open, if we are to love as he has asked us to love. Loving requires sensitivity. If we are not open to feeling the distress and agony of others, then we are not open to giving them our love. There’s no doubt that it is difficult to remain sensitive to the needs and pain of others. Seeing the pain of others often causes pain within ourselves--pain which we would rather not feel. And yet it is this very pain we feel which moves us to action to relieve the pain of others. If I never felt distress about someone else’s troubles, I would not be moved to do anything about their situation. I would have hardened my heart, instead of letting it remain soft and open to others.
Jesus goes on to tell us that three things can harden our hearts: debauchery, drunkenness and the cares of life. Debauchery is the extreme indulgence of our appetites, especially for sensual pleasure. It can include lust and gluttony among other things. A person is caught up in debauchery when their goal in life is to satisfy their physical cravings. But how did the cares of life get into this list? It seems out of place. After all, it certainly can’t be sinful to be concerned about the cares of life, can it? We do need to take care of ourselves. We all need food and clothing and shelter. True enough. But when we are concerned about nothing else, then we have closed ourselves off to others.
All three of these things harden our hearts because all three of them close ourselves off from others. Any one of these can turn us inwards. We become preoccupied with ourselves. When we seek pleasure in the extreme, through overindulging in eating, drinking or buying things, then we find ourselves in a very small world-- and in that world there is only room for one person--ourselves.
During this time of Advent, we are preparing both for the coming of Jesus at Christmas, and for his second coming. That is why we are urged to watch ourselves carefully. If we have hardened hearts we will not be able to recognize Christ when he comes into our midst. It would be a tragedy if we turned him away because we did not recognize him. A sensitive heart will be ready to receive Christ when he comes, as Mother Teresa has said, in his ’distressing disguise’.