“Four Cardinals, 54 Bishops, 700 priests, 1 million people.” This was on the headlines in one of the Philippine newspapers yesterday, the day after the National thanksgiving for the Canonization of our second Filipino Saint, San Pedro Calungsod. I might just be carried away by this amazing gathering in my own home province in Cebu, Philippines, that I shared this news on my Facebook account. A Facebook friend then commented: ‘1 million? That is an understatement!’ And he noted that there are more than a million people there. I’m wondering why this friend was so keen to tell the exact figure. Anyway, I wrote back saying that it doesn’t really matter if there are millions or just a few hundred people celebrating, what matters is the faith, the love and the devotion of those who attended that religious gathering. What matters most is not the quantity of the crowd but the quality of the faithful.
My Dear Friends, I’m sharing this with you because we can easily fall into this same trap as well. We might say the more people come to our party, the more enjoyable it should be. The more friends we have, and the more people we know, the more we think we have got on so well with life.
Sisters and brothers in Christ, our being a Christian is not measured by how many friends we’ve made, or how many parties we have thrown. It is measured by how much we love God and one another, how faithful we are to Christ and his Church, and how hope-filled our lives are to the promises of God. We are not saved as a bunch of people but we are to be saved because each one of us is precious in the eyes of the Lord.
Because of this love of God for each one of us, he chose to become like us. He sent his own son to show to each one of us how to live a truly human life and to offer each one of us a place in his kingdom. How do we know this?
Well, today’s celebration is one way to understand this truth of our faith in God. Today the Church celebrates its new year- a new liturgical year marks by this First Sunday of Advent. And so we lit the first of the advent candles- the one that symbolizes hope for us. Today we start the journey of remembering and re-living that moment in our Christian journey when God has sent his own Son into the world to become like all of us humans except sinning (First coming of Christ). And today we also renew our sense of hope for the second coming of Christ when he would come back to us in all his glory. So in this first Sunday of Advent then, we are called to renew and celebrate our sense of Christian hope.
How do we make this renewal and how to celebrate this sense of hope?
Jesus in our gospel today according to Luke urges us to do two things. First is to watch ourselves or our hearts. This can be done by regular examination of conscience, regular celebration of the sacrament of reconciliation, by being with good company, by promoting the cause of peace, justice and truth, etc. Another way to test this is to examine our motives in giving away gifts or cards this Christmas. Second is to pray at all times for strength to survive all trials and tribulations that are sure to come into our way before he comes again in glory. These two help us in celebrating and renewing our hope in the sense that it tells us to model our life (personal and communal) to the life of Jesus Christ himself. So we are to work as representatives of Christ in the world today.
St Paul in our Second Reading today would also urge us to carry out our very important mission in life as a Christian- that is to grow in holiness. This is crucial and very important for him that he strongly made this appeal to the Christians in Thessalonica and even for us now. He wrote: ‘Brothers [and sisters], we urge you and appeal to you in the Lord Jesus to make more and more progress in the kind of life that you are meant to live: the life that God wants, as you learnt from us, and as you are already living in.’ [1 Thess 3:12- 4:2] St Paul is saying here that in Christ we have already been shown the way of holiness so what we are to do now is to be faithful to him and follow him all the way.
We can also celebrate this sense of hope by going back to the basics of our faith. This can be done by reflecting on how God comes into our life or how do we sense God’s presence in our lives and in the lives of others. We take life everyday as a gift from God. Let us not wish for more luxury. Let’s us enjoy the journey of life with God. At the same time, let us do our best not to lose the sense of where we are going- God.
There might be many distressing events happening in different parts of the world now. There might be acts of injustice, lack of peace, famine, violence, etc. all around us but if we live in hope for Christ’s coming and continue to be faithful to the gospel, we will be assured that these would all come to an end. We just have to remain steadfast in our faith, keep loving God and one another and continue to embody in us the virtue of hope that Christ has gifted us with. We are to remember always that for God what matters is not the quantity of our achievements or our titles, but the quality of our Christian life. So we ask ourselves: If Christ comes today, would he find enough faith, hope and love in me?