Our Passionist rule affirms that the sufferings of Christ continue today in the sufferings of people throughout the world. Thus, there is a “historical” Passion of Jesus that Jesus endured at the hands of the Romans over 2,000 years ago, but there is also a “contemporary” Passion reflected in sufferings such as the plight of the poor who struggle to survive or refugees desperately seeking safety, or those who suffer from chronic hunger or are oppressed by unjust and hostile political regimes, or those who have to live in fear of violence in their own neighborhoods. We see reports of these kinds of suffering in the media every day.
But the readings for today remind us of another type of suffering that our Passionist rule also cites, namely, the suffering of meaninglessness. There are many people today who do not live in fear of violence or who don’t have to worry about having enough food or proper shelter. But their lives are struck by another type of suffering. They feel adrift, not sure of their purpose. Little joy is found in their work or in their relationships. They wonder what life is all about and where their own life will lead them.
The Gospel for today’s Mass is taken from the conclusion of Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount. Typical of Jesus’ teaching in this Gospel, the emphasis falls on not simply saying the right words but in actually doing the right thing. Thus, Jesus challenges his disciples: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the Kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.” Jesus goes on to say that the one who “listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like the wise person who built his house on rock.” A strong storm can arise and buffet this “house” but because it is built on a firm foundation, it will withstand the force of the storm, unlike the home of the foolish person who built his house on sand.
This, I think, is the gospel question that is posed for us as we continue to live through this Advent. What is the foundation on which we can build a life of meaning? Where do we put our ultimate trust? Jesus teaches us that we are sons and daughters of God, destined not for oblivion but for eternal life. He also teaches us that we find true happiness and meaning to the extent we are willing to go beyond ourselves and to love and respect others. Such a fundamental direction in our life can bring meaning to whatever we do in our life. This foundational teaching is echoed in the other readings for today as well. The prophet Isaiah tells us: “Trust in the Lord forever! For the Lord is an eternal Rock.” And the responsorial Psalm 118 acclaims: “Give thanks to the Lord for he is good, for his mercy endures forever…The Lord is God, and he has given us light.”
The season of Advent invites us to place our trust and hope in God, the God of infinite love revealed to us by Jesus.
Fr. Donald Senior, C.P. is President Emeritus and Professor of New Testament at Catholic Theological Union. He lives at the Passionist residence in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago.