A few days ago, I had the opportunity to serve a funeral Mass for a very special lady. In her ninety-nine and one-half years, Theresa DuRocher had fulfilled many roles: daughter, sister, wife, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, co-worker, and dear friend. But for me, even more impressive than those was the fact that she had never lost a precious gift that had been given to her a century ago.
On the day of her baptism, while resting in her parent’s arms, sacred water was poured over her head and these words were prayed by the priest:
I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
And from that day on, she was thrust into an eternal relationship with God, one in which the Lord promised to transform her life in ways unimaginable. The Prophet Isaiah (63:16b-17, 19b; 64:2-7) shouts out these new possibilities: You, Lord, are our Father, our redeemer you are named forever…We are the clay and you are the potter: we are all the work of your hands.
Near the end of the funeral liturgy, I was handed the thurible and proceeded to walk toward Theresa’s casket. As I came near, I waited for a time in order to allow the now bellowing incense an opportunity to envelope that small chapel. And as I began to swing, I remembered our last visit together…
Upon my arrival at the nursing home, a nurse informed Theresa that she had a guest. Still partially asleep while being wheeled into her room, she looked up slowly and seemed to gasp as she saw me standing before her in a bright white alb and stole. My quick response was: “No, it is not who you think, it’s just Deacon Kurt from St. Clement of Rome parish in Romeo.”
After exchanging some laughs, we visited, prayed together, and at the end, I blessed her and the room in which she lived. Strangely, however, it was none of those moments that captured me; but rather, one that transpired as I was preparing to leave. Now standing in her doorway, I looked back to say goodbye and noticed that she had entered into private prayer. And although I was unable to hear her words, the sight of this faithful woman was inspirational. As I gazed upon her, I remembered some of the events that she and her loving daughter had shared with me regarding her life, one that had begun before the first World War. Despite the many twists and turns, Theresa’s faith in Jesus had become the bedrock of her life. Given that Jesus was truly her friend, she was never shy in asking Him for help. In turn, He was always there to guide her. And if giving example counts, her strong faith was a reality that those around her counted on as well. To paraphrase St. Paul in his Letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor 1:3-9), she was not lacking in any spiritual gift as she waited for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Given these images from Isaiah (that we are the clay, and the Lord is the potter) and St. Paul (that we are not lacking in spiritual gifts as we wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ), it is interesting that Jesus tells us three times in Mark’s Gospel (13:33-37) “to be watchful and alert, for we do not know when the time will come.” But curiously, we hear nothing about merely waiting for the Lord on a park bench until He comes to us at Christmas. And neither do we hear Jesus saying that we should busy ourselves with trips to the shopping mall in order that we might purchase gifts for others, although in and of themselves, these are not necessarily a bad thing. Whereas stagnation is not an option, neither is a cultural obliteration of the meaning of Advent and the Christmas season! To recall Jesus’ words once again: What I say to you, I say to all: Watch!
The late German priest, Fr. Alfred Delp, S.J., once described Advent as a time of “waking up to ourselves.” But how do we do this? Perhaps it means that as we move through Advent, our goal should be centered around a faithfulness to the present moment— and ourselves. According to Fr. Delp:
The basic condition of life always has an Advent dimension: boundaries, and hunger, and thirst, and lack of fulfillment, and promise, and movement toward one another. That means, however, that we basically remain without shelter, under way, and open until the final encounter, with all the humble blessedness and painful pleasure of this openness.
In order that we might meet the Lord in an entirely new way at Christmas, “waking up to ourselves” really means that a change is required in our lives, one that might require a slight shift of sail or a dramatic course of action. Perhaps it is a long needed apology to someone we have hurt? Or a visit to one who receives very few visits? Perhaps it means that we truly open ourselves to others, in order that we might find out that which is on their hearts? Or still yet, a sharing with others of that which has been given to us by the Lord, which, by the way, is everything.
Whatever the issues may be, they are ours alone to resolve. And in their resolution, as we “wake up to ourselves” and reach out to others, the Lord delights in our increase of faith and in our movement from ourselves, to others, and to Him.
May God bless you in this holy season.