November 30, 2007

Seeking the Face of the Lord

We want without delay, but Advent is about what’s worth waiting for

Waiting for a flight at the airport, it is not uncommon to observe people talking and gesturing enthusiastically, yet clearly they are not talking to each other or to anyone nearby.

I have observed people at the cashier’s station in the grocery talking away, but not to the cashier or anyone else in the grocery line. I used to be mystified, but I now realize that these folks have a barely visible headset cell phone; it is hardly visible even close up.

There’s no doubt that wireless communication has made things easier for many people, including me. But I wonder if speed and accessibility don’t also carry hazards.

Instant messages are sent in expectation of instant responses. The technology is a wonder but, as a friend of mine remarks, the expectation of instantaneousness causes everyone’s engines to rev up a few thousand revolutions, adding stress to already overloaded lives. The convenience needs to be complemented by space for rest and refuge.

Secondly, wireless communication has the unfortunate consequence of intentionally diverting our attention from where we actually are at the moment to faraway places. We talk and gesture at the air, and make long-distance arrangements with unseen people while ignoring the people right next to us. The convenience also needs an antidote against ­individualism.

Here I suggest that these effects of instantaneous wireless communication can have negative spiritual side effects.

These thoughts come to mind as I reflect on the meaning of Advent, the liturgical season we enter this coming weekend. Advent has to do with presence and waiting.

In one of his teachings, Pope Benedict XVI reminds us that “Advent” is a Latin word that can be translated as “presence” or “coming.”

In ancient literature, the word referred to the coming presence of an important personage, like a king, or it was applied to the emerging presence of a deity. The word adapted to our Christian liturgical experience refers to the “new” beginning of a presence of the true God in our world and the fullness to come.

And so we will celebrate the coming of the Son of God at Christmas. The birth of Jesus in Bethlehem is an annual celebration of a “new” presence of God in our midst. But we still await the fullness of God’s coming at the end of this world when Christ will come again in glory to lead us to the house of the Father.

We celebrate “God with us” even as we wait for and anticipate the final coming.

An important aspect of Advent is a waiting that is full of hope. The Church’s celebration of Advent helps us understand the meaning of the uniquely Christian dimension of time in this world of ours.

Pope Benedict has observed, “Waiting itself becomes too heavy a burden to bear, when we cannot be sure whether we will really have anything at all to wait for.” He knows that much of our human experience of life has to do with waiting. We are always hoping for better times. Waiting with Christian hope makes all the difference.

Yet in our world of instantaneous messaging, we are less and less patient with waiting for better times. This can cause us to be diverted to a search for more instant gratification in a material sense. What do I do if God does not seem to answer my prayers as swiftly as I would like? What if when I pray I feel like I am speaking to the air and wonder if anyone is listening?

I suggest that as we begin the hopeful season of Advent and anticipate the wonder of Christmas, we take a measure of our willingness to embrace a Christian understanding of waiting that calls for patience. This, of course, implies that we believe in God and that our reason for hope is invested in our belief in Jesus, who has already come among us.

It is in the Eucharist, more than any other place or time, where God is present to us and gives himself to us in his Son. Nothing can build and strengthen our faith and hope like frequent attendance at Mass. And I encourage us to seek refuge and rest from the stress of this fast-paced world before the tabernacles of our parish churches and adoration chapels.

The Advent lesson we might want to embrace is a greater understanding that we do not wait for God because he is far away. We wait for him because he is near, he is here, in more ways than we can count.

If we make the connection in faith, we have only to watch, to listen, to notice those around us, and to make ourselves present to him.

Advent patience and peace are not at all far away. †

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