By Ryan Browne
“Is God before us, in our seeking gaze, or is He behind us, at our backs?”
These words by the Swiss theologian, Hans Urs von Balthasar, set before us a great challenge. He formulated this question in response to the issue of mission. As Christians, how often do we think we’re fully furnished with the Church’s teaching, fully prepared on our own merit, to go out and preach the Gospel?
In today’s Gospel (Luke 21:5-28, 34-36), we find ourselves overhearing a dialogue between Jesus and his Disciples. Jesus offers a stark warning to them: be ready for the end times and the days that precede them. This warning may now leave us feeling anxious and fearful. You may even be thinking, “why on earth do we have this Gospel on the First Sunday of Advent?” Shouldn’t we have a Gospel that leads us to meditate on the Birth of Our Lord? Good question!
Today’s Gospel offers a lesson in humility instead. There are things we just don’t know. We don’t know when our lives will end, let alone what will happen tomorrow! In our ever-updated-technological world, how often do we think we have all the answers off our backs and efforts? After all, with Google, we are only one click away from omniscience.
Today, Jesus is calling us to humility of heart. This is the start of discipleship. This is the beginning of the profession of faith in Christ and His second coming. This is the first response to Balthasar’s challenge: keeping God ever before our searching gaze, so we can constantly be refashioned.
We are being called on this First Sunday of Advent to conversion. Humility is being able to recognise our own weaknesses. To continue walking in faith, hope, and love. To keep our gaze fixed on Jesus, who is always the One who will come. Further still, to the horizon, wherefrom Christ will come again.
So, the real questions are:
- Are we ready to humble ourselves?
- Are we ready to take up our burdens and walk?
- Can we admit that we do not have all the answers?
Only in a humble state, like Mary’s, can we begin a process of conversion. Humility helps us recognise, we will never have all the answers. Instead, Jesus will give us a renewed vision of our humanity. We are frail, earthenware vessels being constantly moulded by His love.
Let our prayer today therefore be: Lord, may you gift us with the courage to be humble, so that when you come again in glory on the last day, we may ever perfectly reflect you; crucified and risen. Amen.
Ryan Browne, from Bournemouth, England, is a seminarian studying at the Venerable English College in Rome, in his first year of theology.