“Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life, and that day catch you by surprise like a trap.”
Have you ever had the experience of being tired and not understanding why? I remember when I was in college I would come home for Christmas break and not do anything all day, and then practically be ready for bed once supper was over. I didn’t do anything all day, and yet I was tired! Maybe something like that happened to you the day after Thanksgiving, or maybe you look forward to it happening in a few weeks after Christmas.
Ironically, people who are physically active have more energy than those who just lie around all day, like I would do during Christmas break as a college student (and like many of you have probably observed your own children doing during those school breaks). The reason why that happens is because physical energy is not a zero-sum game. Rather than having a fixed amount that your body can use up, the active body produces more energy so that it can stay in motion. I realize that most of us already know this, but I bring it up because it is a helpful way for us to understand our spiritual lives in addition to understanding the way that our bodies work.
Our Lord gives us an interesting image today: the drowsy heart. He says that we must not let our hearts become drowsy. The original Greek word that St. Luke is using means, “weighted down,” or “overcharged.” But drowsy is a great image too – like someone who is weighted down by too much turkey and mashed potatoes and even two cups of coffee haven’t managed to revive (which was me a week ago Thursday!). What would put our hearts in that condition? There are two principle reasons:
First, our hearts could become drowsy because of exhaustion. This could happen either because of self-inflicted wounds, like the ones that our Lord talks about today (carousing and drunkenness), or because of a crisis or spiritual tragedy in our lives. In the latter case, there is little we can do to avoid such occurrences. But there is a second kind of drowsiness that we can avoid, the kind that comes from a lack of exercise. This is the drowsiness that comes from the “anxieties of daily life” that our Lord mentions, and it is much more common. That does not make it any less dangerous, though! Most people who fall away from faith in the Lord – or the practice of that faith – say that it did not happen because of any tragic situation, but was just something gradual that happened over time. How, then, can we be on guard against that drowsiness that comes from the anxieties of daily life?
When I was in middle school, for reasons that elude my adult mind, I joined the cross country team. I was not particularly talented at cross country, or, well, any other sport. However, my grandfather was a marathon runner, and I sought advice from him as to how I could avoid being the last kid to cross the finish line. (Not an ambitious goal, I know, but everyone has to start somewhere.) He gave me a plan for how I could work up to the grueling 1.8 miles of a middle school cross country race, improving gradually day by day. Sure enough, with the help of grandpa’s plan, I gradually worked up from my place at the end to being solidly middle-of-the-pack.
Today, Christ wants to wake up our drowsy hearts to be ready for his coming. Those themes of Christ’s coming at the end of time that we explored during the last few weeks of Ordinary Time have continued today as we begin the season of Advent. We are preparing not only for the coming of the Christchild at Christmas, but for Christ’s coming in glory at the end of time. If we want to allow Christ to wake up the hearts that have become drowsy because of want of spiritual exercise, we will need a plan.
This Advent, as a part of your preparation for Christmas and for Christ’s second coming, I want to encourage you to come up with your own spiritual exercise plan. It is what is commonly called a “plan of life.” This plan of life should have multiple elements that consider each person’s state in life, the vocation to which God has called you. It’s first response, though, should be to the vocation that all of have as God’s beloved sons and daughters, His call to us to be holy.
The first element of a Christian plan of life is our time with the Lord in prayer. You should start every day with a morning offering – offering to God all of your prayers, works, joys, and sufferings that you will experience that day. Throughout the day, you should seek to be mindful of God’s presence, since He is always at your side. Serious growth in our friendship with Christ will take place when we set aside time for mental prayer – at least 15 minutes each day dedicated to reading God’s word and allowing it to resonate in your heart. We also know as Catholics that the Eucharist ought to be the center of our spiritual lives because the Eucharist is Christ – really, truly, and substantially present in our midst. If we cannot make it to Mass on a daily basis, then at least a brief visit to the Blessed Sacrament helps us to stay centered on Him, or if that is not possible, then an act of spiritual communion, placing ourselves before the Eucharist even when we cannot make it to church. Of course, a day without our Blessed Mother would also be a day wasted, and each of us should cultivate our own personal devotions to our Blessed Lord and His saints as well. Finally, the prayer portion of our prayer life should conclude each day with an examination of conscience, giving thanks for the good things we have done that day through God’s grace, asking for His forgiveness for the sins that we have committed, and looking forward to our next, regular, sacramental confession.
A Christian plan of life should also facilitate your growth in knowledge of the faith. If we are not constantly learning more, our minds will be atrophying and losing that precious knowledge of the faith that was handed on to us. Spiritual reading and the lives of the saints have an important role here. There is a lot of great material in our parish library. If you are not a book person, I also have a list of Catholic podcasts with the text of this week’s sermon on our website.
It might not be the first thing that comes to mind, but physical activity is not just a metaphor for growth in the Christian life – it is an important part of it as well! God made as a union of body and soul. He gave you your body and He wants you to care for it, and what’s more, the health of your body can impact the health of your soul. As the Scriptures point out, the body can be a source of temptation to sin. Laziness in our bodies can lead to laziness in our souls as well. Those lazy days where you don’t get off the couch can lead to serious temptation!
The body can also be a great way of growing in virtue. Build a habit of self-discipline by exercising regularly. The self-discipline gained by regular physical exercise helps us to be faithful to our spiritual commitments as well. Any day without some act of self-sacrifice is a day wasted. One of the easiest ways to do this is with food, making the sacrifice of a dessert, or the salt shaker, or a second helping. But it could also mean staying silent instead of expressing your own preferences for a group or family activity.
Lastly, a Christian plan of life should include one’s duties to one’s family and community. Human life is a vocation to service and communion with others. None of us are isolated individuals. God calls us together – into the family and other forms of community as well – to serve Christ in one another.
A great place to start in forming this plan of life would be to write out a schedule of how you normally spend your week. How much time is normally dedicated to work, to your family duties, to hobbies, to recreation, to God? It is easy for us to say that God and our families are our top priorities, but does that actually happen in your weekly schedule? See where you are, and then start forming that plan for where you want to be, and more importantly, where God wants you to be. If you’d like to follow up on this idea of creating a plan of life, I have placed some links to helpful resources for doing so on our website with the text of this sermon. If you already have something like a plan of life, then this Advent presents the opportunity to evaluate how you are doing with that plan, whether it should be revised, or what you need to do in order to adhere to it more carefully.
Christ tells us that the day of his coming, “will assault everyone who lives on the earth.” That is some pretty harsh language! With a solid plan of life, though, we can be ready with hearts that are awake. With the help of Christ’s grace, you can stand erect and raise your heads, because your redemption is at hand.
The Rev. Royce V. Gregerson
Parish Church of St. John the Evangelist, Goshen
I Sunday of Advent, A.D. MMXVIII
Spiritual Communion: https://www.ourcatholicprayers.com/spiritual-communion.html
Plan of life: https://smile.amazon.com/Plan-Life-Roger-J-Landry/dp/0819860433
Catholic podcasts: https://epicpew.com/catholic-podcasts-listening/
Morning offering: https://www.ewtn.com/devotionals/prayers/morning2.htm
Examination of conscience and act of contrition: http://www.ncregister.com/info/confession_guide_for_adults