Welcome to this great journey of Advent, the liturgical season of vigilance—or, to put it more mundanely, of waiting.
Waiting is very hard for most of us. I suppose we human beings have always been in a hurry, but modern people especially seem to want what they want when they want it. We are driven, determined, goaloriented, fast-moving. I, for one, can’t stand waiting. So when I’m told that waiting seems to belong to the heart of the spiritual life, I’m not pleased, for here, too, I want answers, direction, clarity–and I want them pronto.
So what sense can we make of the countercultural and counterintuitive spirituality of vigilance? The first thing we have to realize is that we and God are, quite simply, on different timetables. “To you, O Lord, a thousand years are like a day” (2 Peter 3:8). What is a long time to us is an instant for God.
Also, is it possible that we are made to wait because the track we are on is not the one God wants for us? G.K. Chesterton said that if you are on the wrong road, the very worst thing you can do is to move quickly. Maybe we’re forced to wait because God wants us seriously to reconsider the course we’ve charted, to stop hurtling down a dangerous road.
Or perhaps we are made to wait because we are not yet adequately prepared to receive what God wants to give us. Saint Augustine argued that the purpose of unanswered prayer is to force an expansion of the heart. And even if we desire with sufficient intensity what God wants to give, we still might not be ready to integrate a particular grace into our lives or to handle the implications of it.
So may we embrace the spirituality of Advent, and may we spend these holy days together waiting–in prayer, penance, and hope–for the appearance of Christ our Savior.
Bishop Robert Barron