Message for Advent: ‘Watch!’ Print E-mail
Bishop's Column
Written by Bishop Robert C. Morlino, Bishop of Madison   
Thursday, Dec. 07, 2017 -- 12:00 AM
This column is the bishop’s communication with the faithful of the Diocese of Madison. Any wider circulation reaches beyond the intention of the bishop.

Dear Friends,

We have entered into the Season of Advent. It is a short Season of Advent this year, so let’s get right to it. Our message from the Lord on this first Sunday is simple: “watch!” The Gospel of this past Sunday (MK 13:33-37) doesn’t even contain 100 words, yet, in this small discourse we hear Jesus say repeatedly, “Be watchful,” “be alert,” “watch,” “What I say to you, I say to all: ‘Watch!’”

Now, it’s clear that Jesus primarily means that we should be watchful of our own selves, of our preparation for the Lord to return. And this exhortation is striking enough. May the Lord not come suddenly and find you sleeping, he says. The Lord will come. He will come, do not cease to be watchful.

Why be watchful?

Now, why would we need to be watchful, and why would we need to be prepared? And prepared for what?

Three weeks ago, we heard about the Kingdom of Heaven and the “wise virgins” who remain ready, versus the “foolish virgins” who are not prepared and who end up locked out in the dark.

Two weeks ago, we heard the parable of the talents and about how the master expected his servants to put the talents they were given to good use, and about how the master threw out the “useless servant,” who did nothing with their talent, into the darkness outside.

And last week we heard about the Son of Man coming at the second judgement, and about how the sheep and goats will be separated, based upon their living out their calling.

And now, Jesus says again, “watch!” Why the need for so much preparation? If I’m okay and you’re okay, and if we’ve been following our consciences based on what we’ve decided Jesus says and doesn’t say, then what’s the big deal?

Unfortunately, most Christians and most Catholics do not believe there is any reason to watch. They do not believe that Jesus Christ will come again at the end of time, nor that there will be a judgement.

They do not believe that Christ sent the Holy Spirit to guide His Church here on earth. They do not believe that the Church is called to be one, holy, catholic, or apostolic. Most of them do not even know what that means. And, just as most Catholics do not believe that Christ is really present in the Eucharist, most Catholics don’t believe in life after death.

Now, sure, if you ask someone, do you believe that there is life after death, they’ll say “yes.” But if you ask, do you live as if there is life after death and as if we will be judged . . .

And that’s true, to some extent, for all of us. At times in our life, and at times in each day, we do not live as though judgement is coming. We are asleep. And if the Lord comes, He will find us asleep and not watching. This should provide a challenge for all of us to be more watchful.

We are called to be ‘watchmen’

But there is another level of watching of which I want to remind you today. And it was never more clear to me than the one time I was actually in Rome for Christmas midnight Mass with St. John Paul II.

The First Reading was about the watchman keeping watch and in his homily, St. John Paul said that one of the roles of the watchman was to respond to the cries of the passersby, who would shout out, “Watchman, say what of the night?” That is, how much of the night is left? Or, what time is it? In addition to watching for trouble, a key duty of the watchman was to keep the time.

And St. John Paul said, behold, I proclaim midnight! Just as the watchman is supposed to tell the time, he said, I proclaim midnight! The Holy Father acknowledged that in some parts of the world midnight had already come and gone. In some other parts of the world midnight was still awaited, but for every time and for every place, he said, “I proclaim midnight! For I am the watchman of the mysteries of God! I am the Bishop of Rome.”

Now, a part of me was thinking interiorly, “Well, Pope John Paul certainly doesn’t have an identity crisis!”

But in reality, his words gave me goosebumps; it was so powerful and rang true. “I am the watchman of the mysteries of God,” he cried out. “I am the Bishop of Rome.”

Indeed it is the vocation of the Bishop of Rome to guide the Church and to lead the bishops in being watchmen of the mysteries of God. And together, all of us, through Baptism, Confirmation, the Eucharist, through the Sacraments of Initiation, are called to be sentinels, sub-watchmen of the mysteries of God.

And that’s why we must constantly prepare and must constantly keep watch. We are called, each in our own way — whether large or small — to know the mysteries of God. We are called to speak about the mysteries of God in the words that the Lord gives us, even if we don’t always know what those words mean. And we are called to be the guardians of the mysteries of God.

Keeping vigil over the mysteries of God

Today, the Church and her people need very much to have careful, alert watchmen, keeping vigil over the mysteries of God, which are under attack from every direction.

It’s important that we all know what they are, which means it is important that we are steeped in the Catechism. But it’s important that we are not only learning definitions and terms with regard to the mysteries of God, but that we are learning through prayer and through living the reality of the mysteries out in our lives —through the Sacraments, and through Works of Mercy. We have to allow the mysteries of God to take hold of our whole lives.

Now, we’re only going to be able to do that if we watch ourselves first so that we’re not found to be sleeping when the Lord comes. And He comes so many times and in so many ways each day, and He will surely come to judge the living and the dead at the end.

So when we hear that Advent warning, “watch,” watch out for yourself, watch out for the Church and the wonderful mysteries which she proclaims, which are under attack from practically every direction. Let us strive to know the mysteries of God and to be faithful to them.

Thank you for taking the time to read this. Praised be Jesus Christ!