Every week we offer a prayerful reflection from a member of the Unbound community. Throughout the Advent/Christmas season, we offer a special series of reflections on the upcoming Sunday readings. This reflection for the First Sunday of Advent is from Unbound preacher Father Dave Noone.
“Be watchful. Be alert.”
When I read those words of Jesus in the Gospel for this First Sunday of Advent, I thought of other words written by the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins back in 1877.
“The world is charged with the grandeur of God,” he wrote. “It will flame out, like shining from shook foil. …”
As I travel from parish to parish making appeals on behalf of Unbound, I have learned to “be alert” and “watchful” for people through whom God’s presence seems, in the imagery of the poet, to emanate like a flame and speak to me in incredibly meaningful ways.
On a recent Unbound assignment, a parishioner in a suburban Minneapolis parish shared with me a copy of the personal testimony he and his wife had written between the time she was diagnosed with terminal cancer and her death. They called it “Seems to Us” and wrote it as a way to share with their four daughters what they’d come to believe it meant “to live life with and for God.” The part that spoke loudest to me while reading it on the flight home was their conviction that “what God needs most from us is for us to be his partners.”
I’d heard so often while growing up that God can do everything. I’d been more inclined to think of partnership with God as something God appreciates, but the couple experienced it more deeply as something God actually needs.
It’s the same truth expressed in a prayer attributed to St. Teresa of Avila: “He has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks [with] compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. …”
I’ve fallen into the habit of arriving at the parish where I help out when home on weekends with just enough time to vest and flip to the opening hymn. On a recent Sunday, however, grace led me to arrive much earlier, as there was a young man there wanting to go to Confession. His request was not because he had terrible sins. He had concluded that neglecting his relationship with God had brought disorder into his life and saw Confession as a way to reestablish that relationship. I realized later that God had gotten me there early because God had truly needed my ears, through which the young man could speak to him, and needed to use my voice so that he could respond.
God needs partners, like Unbound and each of us, and those who are “alert” and “watchful” will experience God’s grandeur blessing the world through them.
Compassionate God, you have called us to act as agents of your love in our world, and blessed us with the gifts we need to fulfill that mission. Following the example of Jesus, may we embrace our calling to be your partners in creating a world of justice and mercy. We ask this in your holy name. Amen.