In recent years, there have been numerous mass shootings. Sadly, this is not exactly a new phenomenon, but what is different is that they are increasing in frequency. And this is not to forget the everyday violence that doesn’t get much attention. Businesses and schools and churches and shopping centers and more and more places have to think about how to respond in the event that the unthinkable suddenly becomes reality. The violence in our nation is a sign of a lack of respect for human life in general and a sign of a very real sickness in our culture. There are many toxic elements in our society and our popular culture which have been around for a long time and are now bearing these toxic fruits.
However, as horrible as these attacks are, a little perspective is also necessary. Rates of violence in our country are lower now than a generation ago. And the odds of anyone being a victim of one of these attacks are still extremely minute. But the human mind does not always work in a rational way. It’s the same principle in effect that makes people cancel their flights after a big plane crash, even though the odds of dying in a plane crash remain extremely remote. One effect that these attacks on ordinary people going about their day is that it produces fear and paranoia in everyone. And these tragedies also create in us a false sense of vigilance born of fear. We spend a lot of mental energy on these kinds of things, even though the odds of them ever happening to us are extremely slim.
Yes, it is good to be vigilant, and it is good to act with prudence, but we are also called to a different kind of vigilance. In our Gospel reading today, Jesus talks about the kind of vigilance we are called to. And the kind he talks about does not involve living in fear. In fact, the Gospel today begins with Jesus saying, “Do not be afraid any longer, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom.” But he also tells us: “Gird your loins and light your lamps and be like servants who await their master’s return from a wedding, ready to open immediately when he comes and knocks.” Being vigilant means being prepared for the coming of the Lord. We all know that one day the Lord will come. It is possible to pretend that this day will never come – and the younger you are, I think the easier it is to do this. It is possible to live as though this day will never come, through constant entertainment, indulging in various addictions, working all the time, and so on. But this day has come for each of the billions of human beings who have lived before us and just as surely it will come for each one of us. Whether this day be near or far off, we do not know. How it will happen, we do not know. Nor are we supposed to know these things. What matters is that we know that it will come – and are we ready?
Blessed are those servants who await their master’s coming, Jesus tells us. So how do we prepare ourselves for the coming of the Lord, for that day when the Lord taps us on the shoulder and says to us, “It’s time to go.” There a couple points from the Gospel that I would like to make about this. First of all, as we also heard last week, Jesus instructs us not to build up our treasure here on earth but rather in heaven. He exhorts us to give alms, to share what we have – what we have been given – with those less fortunate than we are. And in doing so, we build up treasure in heaven, a treasure that will last forever. All the material things that we can acquire in this world are ultimately perishable. They will all be stripped away from us sooner or later. Why focus all of our energy on them when we should focus on what is imperishable – the love of God, our relationship with Him.
Secondly, the more with which we have been entrusted, the more will be expected of us. This is especially applicable to those who have been entrusted with any kind of leadership role. But regardless, each one of has been entrusted with something. What has been entrusted to you? What have you been given? Remember that everything we have is a gift. Whatever we have – talents, material possessions, whatever – it is all a gift. Even our faith is a gift. The fact that we are here today is a gift. How do we use the gifts we have been given? Do we try to grow in faith? Do we try to learn more about our faith? Do we cultivate our relationship with Christ? Do we spend time every day in prayer? Or do we just take things for granted? And how do we fulfill the responsibilities we have been given? How do we live out our vocation in life – as husbands and wives, as parents, as caregivers? How well do we live out in the Gospel in the particular circumstances of our own state in life? Whether we are married or single, adults or children, students, workers, retired: the love of God is there for each one of us, a gift to be received, cultivated, shared with others, and lived out in our daily lives.
And the more that has been entrusted to us, the more will be expected of us. We are expected to be good stewards of what has been given to us. In doing so, we are preparing ourselves for the coming of the Lord. This is true vigilance. It doesn’t mean living in fear, nor does it mean living in a fantasy world; it means living in reality, aware that this life is not all there is. It means accepting everything as a gift from God and not taking anything for granted. Each day is a gift from God. Each Mass we attend, however mundane it may seem, is a gift from God. Each time we receive the Eucharist, we receive Jesus Christ himself, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity – an infinitely precious gift of God’s love. When we prepare ourselves to welcome the Lord when he comes, when we live as we ought to live, we can await the coming of the Lord not in fear but in joyful expectation.
Let us live lives of gratitude, always giving thanks to God for what we have been given. Let us live lives of generosity, sharing what we have received with others. Let us always be mindful that the Lord is coming, and is in our midst even now, and let us prepare to receive him with open arms.