When we think of the pandemic currently raging across the globe, the urgency of today's Gospel hits home in a new way. For months, medical experts have stressed the need for everyone to be watchful and to avoid risks. Scientific data has proven that those who are asymptomatic can infect those with whom they come into contact, not only the elderly and infirm but also individuals in excellent health. Nevertheless, despite warnings from the CDC, millions of Americans traveled to celebrate Thanksgiving with their families and friends this year. Some downplayed the threat-factor, while others maintained it was their constitutional right to gather with loved ones; still others knew there was a risk involved but felt that it was a risk worth taking.
With a coast-to-coast surge in COVID-19, the nation's health care system is on the verge of catastrophe. What with bed shortages and exhausted medical staff, "Some cities are already playing out their dystopian worst-case scenarios; in El Paso, Texas, the dead have been shunted to mobile morgues partially staffed by the incarcerated"(Jamie Ducharme, Time, Nov. 19. 2020). One could say that, given the 267,000 national casualties, the 56% of Americans who decided to ignore the urgings of medical authorities were "asleep" to the consequences of their actions. Instead of being watchful, they let down their guard, thereby participating in what will likely be super-spreader events.
In his new book, Let Us Dream: The Path to a Better Future, to be released Dec. 1, Pope Francis writes that those who disregard health measures aimed at reducing the spread of COVID-19 are "incapable of moving outside of their own little world of interests.” Sadly, it is the failure to think globally that is at the root of this humanitarian crisis-- in other words, we are not only dealing with a pandemic but with an acute deficiency of love.
Jesus said to his disciples:
“Be watchful! Be alert!
You do not know when the time will come.
It is like a man traveling abroad.
He leaves home and places his servants in charge,
each with their own work,
and orders the gatekeeper to be on the watch.
you do not know when the Lord of the house is coming,
whether in the evening, or at midnight,
or at cockcrow, or in the morning.
May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping.
What I say to you, I say to all: ‘Watch!’”
"A Zoom Thanksgiving is Better than an ICU Christmas," wrote Tess Koman on Yahoo (Nov. 24, 2020); apparently, not everyone agreed or 50 million Americans would not have crossed the country by trains, planes and cars despite "red zone" alerts and state mandates regarding quarantine.
Willfulness, denial, lack of discipline, a sense of entitlement, the need for instant gratification and a callous disregard of consequences to others have led to this selfish behavior. These same negative characteristics are what make us "slumber" in other areas of our lives as well. Feelings of invincibility, the belief that "It can't happen to me!," together with every possible addiction, distraction and preoccupation, lull us into a false sense of security. Gone are the days when Christians meditated upon the "Four Last Things" before bed. Not that I advocate focusing on Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell as one struggles with insomnia, but an awareness that life is fragile can
help us prepare not only for the Second Coming but also for the hour of our death.
And this is what Advent is about: it is a "wake-up call" to remind us that there are no guarantees that we will enjoy "tomorrow," and that there is more to life than tinsel, glitter and twinkling lights. That "more," of course, is based on our relationship with God, and on our willingness to deepen that relationship by being "present" to the Holy One. Do we listen to what God may be communicating or are we attentive only to our own wants and needs? Are we seeking what God desires for us, or merely gratifying our own desires? Are we committed to our own journey of transformation or are we content to follow our old, self-centered pursuits and habits? Are we willing to become a new creation or are we determined to plod on with all our old baggage, resentments and negative thinking?
In the next few weeks, most of us will be preparing for the traditional festivities, whether to be held in person or online; the question is, will we also prepare ourselves spiritually for the return of the Lord of the House-- or will he find us sleeping?