In the liturgical year just begun, the First Sunday of Advent fell on 29 November 2020. The gospel reading for that day (in the New American Bible translation widely used in parishes in the United States) concludes with Jesus’ admonition in Mark 13:37: “What I say to you, I say to all: Watch!”
By my estimate, “watch” in its various forms appears roughly 190 times in the Bible. I draw attention here to Mark 13 and to Psalm 130: 5-6.
I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
more than those who watch for the morning,
more than those who watch for the morning.
The “watch” of Mark 13:37 could closely be translated as “be on the alert.” The “watch” of Psalm 130 has as well the sense of longing and anticipation, perhaps of keeping vigil, a sense not at all absent from Mark 13.
I have wondered about my “watching.” Like many believers around the world, I have done a lot of “watching” of livestreamed / televised Masses since March 2020. I wonder how much of my watching has been characterized by the sense of “being on the alert” for the voice and presence of God in the liturgical celebrations I have watched. How much have I allowed myself to be distracted by what surrounds me in my apartment? One stray glance at my carpet reminds me that it is time to vacuum again. My eyes dart to the printer next to my computer screen and I recall that I need to buy another ink cartridge. I am sure readers of this blog can identify other paths to being sidetracked. Am I less susceptible to distraction in a church? True, I do not see my carpet but I might hear the musical instrument that (still!) has not been tuned properly. How am I attending to the presence of God whenever and wherever I worship? How about when I am not engaged in formal worship?
When I view liturgy online, am I doing so with a sense of keeping vigil until I can safely worship with others in the same place at the same time? Am I lulled into the convenience of “going to Mass” by walking from my kitchen to my living room? Is my longing for communal worship in person anesthetized? What about returning to Mass in person? Will I be lulled (back) into the routine of weekly worship and lose a sense of longing, a sense that my whole life of discipleship is a vigil spent waiting in hope for the return of the Lord—and acting on that hope to pursue justice and peace?
In the cycle of Sunday readings that follow the First Sunday of Advent, we do not see Jesus again until 25 December when the gospel will report his birth. We do not hear from Jesus again until 17 January 2021, more than a month after he advised all of us to “watch.” When we do hear from Jesus again on 17 January, he invites his first would-be followers to “come and see” where he is staying. Let us keep watch this Advent so we can respond to this invitation of the Lord in January but even more let us keep watch always and respond with readiness to love and serve God and neighbor whenever we can and should. If we simply wait until 17 January, we are missing the point.