This weekend we begin Advent, the great season of grace and joy.

Advent is an ancient word that means “coming” — as in the king is arriving in our midst and we will soon be standing in his presence.

During this holy season, we are waiting for our God who draws near to us, preparing to welcome him. This is what makes the Christian faith different from other religions.

We believe that the Creator draws near to be close to his creation. We believe our God has ordered this world for our good and that he is directing the passage of history according to his plan of love.

And we believe that our God comes to be with us, that he loves us so much that he makes himself one of us — sharing in the whole experience of our humanity, beginning as a little child in a mother’s womb.

This is the beautiful truth we anticipate in these short weeks that lead to Christmas.

My prayer for us this year is that we will make this Advent a spiritual adventure of living with a new awareness of the presence of God. Advent invites us to look at our lives with new eyes and to see our daily reality in a new way.    

God is always coming, he is always near! But so often, we are not perceptive. We cannot welcome him because we are not “awake” to his presence.

I hear athletes, entertainers and activists using the word “woke” — as in, “We need to stay woke.” There is even a social media hashtag: #StayWoke.

What they mean is that we need to be aware — of injustice in society, of how power can be abused and corrupted.

I wonder if these people know that this concept begins in the Gospels. The liturgy of Advent is filled with exhortations to stay awake — not as a protest, but to watch for the coming of God.

“Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes,” says Jesus.

Advent is the time for us to wake from our sleep! When we are “awake” to who God is, then we are “awake” to who we are — and how precious every life is.

The New Testament speaks of a kind of spiritual “anesthesia” that can come over us. We remember how the disciples fell asleep on the Mount of the Transfiguration and again in the Garden of Gethsemane.

In part, this is a symbol for the fact that we can sometimes become “numb” to the reality of God’s presence — even though he is right there in our lives.

So, we can make a new effort during this holy season — to slow down a little in our lives; to turn down the volume a little; to take some time and make some room in our lives just to be quiet with God.

The psalmist tells us: “Be still, and know that I am God.” But we know that so often our lives are not “still.” We are always moving, always busy, always doing something.

The saints talk about the “practice” of the presence of God. And it does take practice. The early Christians would say, “Come, Lord Jesus.” And we need to make this our prayer, too.  

We need to talk to God and tell him: “Lord, I know that you are near me. I know that, in your love, you come to walk with me.” We need to ask for the grace to really believe that we are always alive in God’s loving gaze and that it is possible with his grace to do everything out of love for him. 

Our newest American saint is Blessed Solanus Casey, a Capuchin priest who was beatified recently in Detroit. He was known as a miracle-worker. And it is true. When Blessed Solanus prayed for people, things changed. Miracles happened. Suddenly, people were healed of their diseases.

But that is not why Blessed Solanus is a saint. He is a saint because he lived in the presence of God and tried to serve God in every moment.

He used to say, “A person’s greatness lies in being faithful to the present moment. We must be faithful to the present moment or we will frustrate the plan of God in our lives.”

This is our purpose in life — to be faithful to the present moment. When we are “awake” to God’s presence, our hearts are open to doing his will and living according to his loving plan for us. And he has created us to do great things.

Pray for me this week and I will pray for you as we begin this holy season of Advent.

And let us turn to our Blessed Mother and ask her to help us to stay awake — that we might live with greater awareness of God’s presence, seeing his loving hand at work in our lives and in the world. 

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