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First Week of Advent

Lk. 21:25-28, 34-36

Jesus paints a very grim picture in today's Gospel reading. He speaks of entire nations being in anguish, of authority being shaken and of people being frightened. He then tells His disciples how they are to react, 'stand erect and hold your heads high.'

It is usually assumed that Jesus is here describing the end of the world, when everything which is familiar to us will suddenly disintegrate. It seems very remote, something quite unlikely to happen in our lifetime, so is there a message for us from today's Gospel? Yes! Jesus is telling us that we must prepare ourselves, build ourselves up spiritually, so that we will have the strength and confidence to face whatever comes.

The world can be a frightening place, full of dangers, traps and temptations. When we are surrounded by all kinds of trouble we can be so easily paralysed by fear, or panicked into making the wrong move, but if we trust Jesus and follow His advice He will give us confidence which comes from practice and training.

A firefighter or a police officer is well prepared and trained to be able to cope with any emergency without panicking. In the same way we must prepare ourselves to respond as we should to whatever spiritual dangers may come our way. Jesus tells us how, "Stay awake, praying at all times for the strength to survive all that is going to happen.”

He warns us to be on our guard against debauchery, drunkenness and the cares of life which may coarsen our hearts. In our modern world we can see how evil affects our lives just as He predicted. The most popular UK newspaper is the Sun which has built itself a reputation for stories of sexual immorality. When we turn on the television we can scarcely avoid the subject of sex: comedians telling filthy jokes, plays and films with explicit sex scenes, chat shows full of sexual innuendoes. Debauchery pervades our society to such an extent that many people are no longer shocked nor disgusted. Their hearts have become coarsened.

How sad it is that this applies even to some Catholic homes. I would love to know how many Catholics and Christians read a paper like the Sun? But if all those people were to refrain from buying those publications their editors would soon have to clean up their act because they would want to know why they are not selling. If only Catholics realised what an influence they could have. The same is true of watching offensive TV programmes. If those who were committed to Christ just switched off, TV planners too would have to clean up their act.

Drunkenness is a regular weekend experience for some young people - and not so young people. Having too much to drink is their idea of a wonderful night out. Sadly, such behaviour is condoned by many as harmless fun. They no longer regard it as an evil. Their hearts have become coarsened, just as Jesus warned.

He knows that the cares of ordinary life, too, can weigh so heavily upon us that we neglect our spiritual life. Even those who avoid the obvious vices may be so anxious about their jobs, their families, financial problems or parental responsibilities that they simply have no time to pray, as Jesus urges us to do, and so they lack the strength that comes from prayer and the sacraments.

So here we are at the start of another Advent season as we prepare for the coming of our Saviour this Christmas. God is giving us another time of grace to have a change of heart and reform our lives. Perhaps Jesus has been speaking to us today through the readings or homily.

Lord Jesus, during these weeks of Advent, let us try to follow Your advice by being watchful and prayerful. This will be the best possible training for whatever life may bring in the years ahead.

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