Bishop Anthony B. Taylor delivered this homily Dec. 3.
When I was a priest in Oklahoma City the priests in the area took turns carrying a hospital beeper at night so that a priest would always be available in case of emergency. Ten of us took turns, meaning that I had the beeper for five weeks of every year.
I don’t know how many of you have ever carried beepers, which I think may have pretty much gone extinct now that we have cell phones, but I can tell you that being on call like that sure changes your life. There are some things you can’t do when on call and other things you think twice about doing because you want always to be ready to respond to whatever emergencies may occur during your watch.
For instance, when on call I tried never to be more than 15 minutes away from any of the hospitals I was covering. Otherwise I might arrive too late in a time of tragedy. I would avoid drinking alcohol whenever I had the beeper — I didn’t want to have beer on my breath when dealing with whatever I was going to have to deal with and, of course, I couldn’t drive to the hospital if I had been drinking. If I went to the movies with a friend, I would take a separate car so I could leave if necessary. I would bring a clergy shirt and black pants with me to the gym; otherwise I might be faced with going to the hospital in gym shorts and a sweaty T-shirt.
Whatever I did during the week when I was on call, I made sure I was always prepared to drop everything and get to the hospital as quickly as possible to be with a person or a family in a medical crisis.
In today’s Gospel on this first Sunday of Advent, Jesus says that what was true for me when it was my time to carry the beeper is true for all of us with respect to being prepared for the coming of the Lord.
He says, “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 …”
If you and I are prepared for the coming of the Lord, it will make a big difference in the way we live our lives. Just as with the beeper, there are some things we can’t do if we’re really prepared for the coming of the Lord, and there are other things we need to think twice about doing because we want to be always ready. None of us knows when or how we will die and none of us knows when the Second Coming will occur.
The rabbis have a saying: “When is the best time to repent? One day before you die!” But since no one knows the day of his death, our whole lives should be spent in repentance — that’s the only way we know we’ll be ready.
So how can we arrange to be always ready for the coming of the Lord? The answer is both easy to understand and hard to do. It is easy to say, “Always live in a way that will please the Lord and you’ll be ready for him when he comes.” But that’s easier said than done. Our world offers appealing things that are good in themselves, but which can often lead us away from the Lord. We give them more importance than they should have and the result is that they become idols for us.
The four main categories are the pursuit of power, possessions, pleasure and prestige — the four dangerous Ps. We put our trust in them and think that they will make us feel happy and secure, but it’s all an illusion, one of Satan’s biggest lies. If our life is consumed with the ambition for power and prestige, the accumulation of possessions or the pursuit of pleasure, then we’re not the least bit ready for the coming of the Lord, no matter how many prayers we say or how many nice things we do. Non-believers do lots of nice things too.
Advent is a time of preparation. It is a time to look inward. It is a time to get ready and to see how ready we really are.
You could say figuratively that every one of us has a beeper that could go off at any time. None of us knows when. Jesus said, “Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come … May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping ...”
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