"If Only" and "Wakefulness"
(A Homily for the First Sunday of Advent)
When I was driving to work the other day, I saw the license plate of the car in front of me when traffic stopped. The license plate of the car read: “IF ONLY”.
I immediately wondered why the owner chose those two words for his or her special license plate and not any other two words, or the usual combination of letters and numbers.
Why “IF ONLY”? He must have a reason for this.
"If Only" is usually associated with a feeling of regret or remorse about a particular act, or omission of an act that produced an unwanted or undesired effect or consequence.
"If only I had not driven after drinking too much liquor, I would not have caused a car accident that killed someone” or
"If only I had studied hard, I would have become a lawyer or a doctor now."
I think that most of us have “if only” experiences. Like: "If only" I had been more careful with my diet, I would not have developed a health problem like diabetes.” Or: If I had worked harder, I would have gotten that promotion.”
Three Sundays ago, the Church presented us with the parable of the foolish virgins who did not have enough oil for their lamps, became drowsy and fell asleep while waiting for the bridegroom. When the bridegroom finally came, they were caught unprepared and they were shut out of the wedding banquet.
In remorse, they probably said to themselves, "If only we had put extra oil in our lamps, or if we had not slept, we would not have been shut out of the banquet.” But it was too late for them.
Two Sundays ago, Paul warned that the day of the Lord “is coming like a thief in the night … therefore, let us not be asleep like the rest, but awake and sober.”
The Gospel for today, the First Sunday of Advent renews the same theme: “Be constantly on watch! Stay awake! You do not know when the appointed time will come.”
In this Gospel, Christ, speaking again in parables, exhorts his disciples to be watchful, to be alert for they do not know when the lord of the house is coming – whether in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning. And He warns: May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping.”
What is the opposite of sleeping, or, what is the meaning of watchfulness, or of being alert? It is a constant attentiveness to what is real, what is true, what is good and what is beautiful.
The problem is -- in the midst of the culture and environment in which we live, we have lost the sense of spiritual realities, of spiritual truths, of the reality of Christ whom we should follow and make the center of our lives. Our culture has lost the sense of moral truths, like the grave evils of contraception, abortion, homosexual acts, adultery and fornication, which are now legalized and accepted by many. But the Church, faithful in preaching the Word of God and points out the evil of other non-sexual sins like greed, selfishness and closing our hearts to the needs of the poor.
That is why the Church’s liturgical year ends and begins with warnings to us of what is called “the last things” which are all very real. Christ will come again, but this time it won’t be in a hidden way. He won’t be wearing swaddling clothes, but judge’s robes.
Advent first and foremost is to remember that He’s coming back and that we must be a bit better prepared for the second coming than the Israelites were for the first one. When “He came into His own and they did not recognize Him, nor receive Him.”
How do we stay awake then? How do we fight the sleepiness caused by our busyness and worldly preoccupations? How do we prepare for Christ’s second coming then?
It is through following Christ in our everyday lives, faithfully following His commandments, and performing acts of love and mercy to those in need.
But the means that Christ most earnestly recommends is frequent prayer. “Watch and pray.” Mt 26:4. Whenever we pray, we are pinching ourselves into wakefulness.
Our God is a God that gives us many chances, especially in our moral life while we are still here on earth. If we have regrets, or remorse for our bad choices or evil actions, called "sin," we can be forgiven, and the unwanted effects erased. It is called "repentance" and it results in forgiveness, making us right with God.
We should make sure that when we close our eyes in death (another coming of Christ) and we appear before the judgement seat of the Lord, there will be no reason for us to say to ourselves and to the Lord: "If Only":
. . . . If only I had been more forgiving, more loving, more caring, more patient,