· Vatican City ·

First Sunday of Advent: 3 December

Of you my heart has spoken

 Of you my heart has spoken  ING-048
01 December 2023

“Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down!” Isaiah cries out as if he were the voice of the conscience of the Israelites, a broken and orphaned people. This predicament was not the fault of an absent father, but of a wayward people: “There is none who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to cling to you; for you have hidden your face from us and have delivered us up to our guilt.” God has not hidden His face, but his people have ceased to seek it. The heart has grown cold and stony. In a rare moment, Isaiah called upon God as “Father” (one of only six times in the Old Testament) to remind the Israelites of their special and intimate relationship with Him and to change their attitude, “Yet, O Lord , you are our father”.

The responsorial psalm confirms the essential need to seek God’s face in order to be saved, “Lord, make us turn to you; let us see your face and we shall be saved.” Psalm 80 recognizes that the defeat of the Israelites’ armies was due to their infidelity. They needed to restore the attitude of trust they once had: “Of you my heart has spoken, ‘seek his face’” (Ps 27:8). A change of attitude from complacency to a “ready heart” that seeks the face of God is an arduous journey (cf. Ps 57:7). Jesus tries to restore this initial love of the Jews in various ways in Mark 13: prediction of temple destruction, violent signs of end times, future persecutions and tribulations, the coming of the Son of Man, and the lesson of the fig tree. This week’s reading is the conclusion of Jesus’ attempts to change our attitude, “Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come.” The verse immediately preceding this warning states, “But of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Mk 13:32). Even this statement demonstrates Jesus’ efforts to change our hearts. Saint Hilary, commenting on this verse rhetorically asks, “He, who is the cause that all things are, and are to be, should be ignorant of any out of all these things? For how can it be beyond the knowledge of that nature, by which and in which that which is to be done is contained? And can He be ignorant of that day, which is the day of His own Advent?” Theophylact agrees with this line of reasoning when he writes, “For the reason why He concealed it was that it was better for us; for if, now that we know not the end, we are careless, what should we do if we knew it?” The fundamental problem is complacency. Consequently, Jesus ends the discourse with an open-ended analogy of a man (not a master) who travels abroad and leaves his servants in charge of the house. The only other detail is that the servants do not know when the lord of the house will return and therefore must be watchful. The “what” is clear; the “how” is left to us.

Advent is a time of watching and waiting. How will we be watchful and which attitude will we take? The servant who dreads the return of a “demanding master harvesting where he did not plant and gathering where he did not scatter” (cf. Mt 25:24)? The Simeon who devoutly watched for the consolation of Israel (Lk 2:25)? or Paul’s attitude and God’s wisdom, “What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and what has not entered the human heart, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Cor 2:9; Is 64:3). One attitude is full of fear; the other is pregnant with anticipation and joy.

*  Abbot of St. Martin Abbey Lacey, Washington

By Fr Marion Nguyen, osb *