Tonight, as darkness fell outside, I sat beside my husband of 17 years at the Vigil Mass for the First Sunday of Advent. Before Mass began, I thumbed through the readings. I usually do this. Sunday’s Gospel reading from Matthew shook me up because it brought back a difficult chapter of my family’s life. Christ, speaking to his disciples on the Mount of Olives, tells us: “Two men will be out in the field; one will be taken, and one will be left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken, and one will be left. Therefore, stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come. Be sure of this: if the master of the house had known the hour of night when the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and not let his house be broken into.“
In the days following the September 11 attacks, I struggled mightily. My husband escaped from the 68th floor of Tower One 11 minutes before it fell. I was shaken. Why was my husband’s building attacked? Why would someone want to murder him? Why was he spared when so many of his friends and colleagues perished? I didn’t understand how terrorists could steal time. No one should have the power to do that. I sought counsel from a priest at the church we were attending.
He told me a couple of things. First, this was an attack on humanity. Second, we cannot comprehend why some people live and some people died. And then he quoted this line from the Gospel of Matthew to me. “Two men will be out in the field; one will be taken, and one will be left.” At the time, I found comfort in it, knowing that thousands of years ago, our Lord had answered my question.
In the intervening years, my husband and I have learned to cherish every day. Nothing will wake you up more than having your life, or the life of your beloved, nearly snatched away. People who have survived war, or attempted murder, or any perilous situation know this. In recent months, our teenager has been questioning the need for organized religion. This is to be expected, I think. I do believe children need to make their parents’ faith their own. In many ways, I welcome his questioning because I have faith the answers he finds will ground him more fully in the Church.
Tonight’s Mass – the readings and the homily – reminded me that all of us are mortal and we need to pray and to worship our Lord together. None of us knows the time or the moment of our deaths. In the time between our births and our deaths, we need to be lights, shining in the darkness. We wait for our Savior this Advent Season, but really, we wait for Him always. We understand every breath is a gift, that every talent we possess has its source in God and that the people and experiences we encounter are not of our making, but are begotten by God. “You also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.” So friends, let’s wake up!