First Sunday of Advent 2019 – Stay Awake!


It’s Advent! A new liturgical year is upon us. The next four Sundays help us to prepare for Christmas, for the celebration of the birth of Christ into the realities of our personal lives and the life of the world. Each of these Sundays has something important to offer for our spiritual life. I’d like to use these four Sundays to emphasize a few important reminders for us.

First things first! We each have to acknowledge that we have a spiritual life. I’m not talking about how often you go to Mass or Reconciliation. I’m not referring to how often you pray the Rosary or sit in a church. One of the constants of the interior spiritual life is movement.

Saint Ignatius and many saints tell us that that movement is at the heart of the spiritual life. I’m not referring to physical or geographic movement. It is the kind of movement that we see so often in scripture, in the lives of the saints, and within our own hearts.

One of my personal favourite movements in the Gospel is in the account of the Road to Emmaus. The disciples walk along, feeling dejected because of the death of Jesus. He comes alongside them, and by the end of the story, we hear the disciples say, were not our hearts burning within, as he talked to us on the road.

Movements like that are a dime a dozen in both Testaments of Scripture. Ordinary women and men have epiphanies, ways – simple and complex – in which something moves within their heart.

Guess what! Those kind of spiritual movements are a dime a dozen in the spiritual life of each one of us. It might be at a moment in Adoration. But it might also be in being moved by the example and the challenging words/actions of Greta Thunberg and the way in which she is inspiring so many in our world and is fearless about challenging the proud and mighty regarding the state of the Earth.

That movement could be in the meeting of a parish committee. But it could also be in the way in which my heart was moved when I saw the homeless in our streets. We cannot place limits of what will cause that movement. Quite simply, where is my heart moving within?

We need eyes and ears to grow in awareness of what is before us. Is it in the beautiful colours of Autumn? Am I moved by a beautiful piece of music? Does the daily news speak to me?

So, what reminder is being offered on this First Sunday of Advent? It’s stated very simply. Keep awake, you must be ready. The time has come for us to rise from a spiritual slumber. Saint Paul reminds us today that it is now the moment for us to wake from sleep. The night is far gone, the day is near. Jesus refers to Noah and his family as a reminder for us to stay alert and watchful.

What does it mean for us to stay spiritually alert? We know how easy it is to fall into a routine, thereby taking for granted spiritual awakenings that confront us on a regular basis. We are prey to the trap of stumbling through life and not having the keen inner eyes or ears to be attentive to what is being offered to us.

Perhaps we have a preconceived notion of how God will come to us. Perhaps we haven’t given ourselves the time or the silence or the space to discover what is before us. Perhaps we are convinced that God only speaks to holier people than us.

I like the notion of beholding. The 19th century Jesuit poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins, has a line in Hurrahing in Harvest that resonates with me as we come to the beginning of Advent. Hopkins says: “These things, these things were here and but the beholder wanting.” That sense of beholding is a good grace for us to pray for in these opening days of Advent.

Philip Shano, SJ has many years of rich and varied experience working with Ignatian spirituality: teaching, writing and using it in his ministry. He resides in the Jesuit community in Pickering, Ontario.

  • Peter Bisson
    Posted at 07:50h, 01 December Reply

    Thank you Philip!

  • Sharon Walters
    Posted at 09:20h, 01 December Reply

    Each week I am thankful for your thoughts.

  • Paul Baker
    Posted at 10:11h, 01 December Reply

    Thanks Phil. I am reminded that for me the recognition and attentiveness to spiritual movements is the difference between an active and a passive spiritual life.

  • Grace Colella
    Posted at 13:29h, 01 December Reply

    Thank you for the Manley Hopkins quote. It seems to summarize well what you are saying.

  • Caroline Maloney
    Posted at 14:45h, 01 December Reply

    So true…thank you Fr. Phil! We truly must give God the space (quiet time) so that we may recognize within our hearts, that “movement”, that constant process of transformation, God’s gift of pure love and grace!
    I find that sometimes that process, especially in ageing, is a process of surrendering that takes up even physical energy! What a journey…when we pay attention, wait, and are open to those gifts to the heart!

  • Carl Mcluhan
    Posted at 15:19h, 01 December Reply

    Thank you, Philip. I am feeling in the midst of that opening you refer to. May it strike you all, too.


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