Yesterday was the start of the Catholic New Year, the first day of the liturgical year. Once Advent starts, we begin to think about the birth of Jesus, but the gospels for the first week of Advent don’t seem to align with our joyful anticipation of Christmas. The first week of Advent gospels always warn us to be ready because we do not know the time or date when Jesus will come again or when our lives will end.
As I was finishing my five-year formation in the diaconate, I came across the following story.
A South African woman was running an orphanage for children whose parents had fallen victim to HIV/AIDS. She was being interviewed for a television program and the interviewer asked her about her hopes and dreams in life—what she felt she wanted to achieve.
She pondered the question for a few moments and then said, “When I die I want to have spent everything I have.”
She remained thoughtful for a while longer, and then explained, “When I meet my maker I want to have used up, totally and completely, every gift that I have been given. I want to return to God empty-handed, when I have spent all God has given me. Then I’ll be ready to go home.”
Ever since that day my greatest fear has been disappointing God by not using up all the gifts and talents he has given me.
Just to enter the diaconate program was difficult. I am extremely introverted and the thought of preaching a homily in front of hundreds of people was paralyzing. Yet I realized that was only the barest beginning of what God wanted me to do. For example, the last few years I have been visiting two men in prison. I am terrified of prisons. Each time I see the prison, I want to turn around and go home but the Holy Spirit pushes me forward and I obey.
Each of us is different. We have been given different gifts and talents. Each of us has been shaped by where we have lived, what we have seen, how we were raised, the cultures we have lived in, our economic status, the influence of our political world, and the way we have been taught about our faith.
In effect, this is the Person That I Am. Our challenge is to make sure we use the gifts and talents we have received. A few Sundays ago, we heard the parable of the talents. Too often we can identify with the servant that buried the talent he was given. It’s easier to convince ourselves that we don’t have the time to use it or we aren’t the best person to use it.
Last Monday, we heard the story of the widow who gives two small coins to the Church. Jesus praises her as having given the greatest gift of all since she gave of her need whereas the others gave of their surplus. Need is a concept that again differs for each of us. We may feel we need a vacation or a new car. In our parish, many families have given up these material needs to help pay down our parish debt. These actions will blossom later when the debt is gone and our programs are expanded.
So the questions is: Is the Person That I Am the same as the Person I Ought To Be, the person God wants us to be. In effect, we must surrender the Person I Am to the Person I Ought To Be. This isn’t easy as we must struggle with the evils that have shaped the Person That I Am.
As Advent starts let each of us take an honest inventory of the gifts and talents that God has given us—not just the easy ones, but the ones that we have buried or terrify us. Then we can take the steps that we need to move ourselves closer and closer to the Person That I Ought To Be.
Advent is a time of anticipation of both the birth of Jesus and the end of our pilgrimage on earth. It is a time to prepare ourselves to go home to God in Heaven so that when the time comes, we can go to God empty-handed.