Advent and Time (SMPA Homily)

Most Fridays, I give a 5-10 minute homily for Morning Gathering at Saint Martin de Porres Academy. It’s one of the ways I’m still able to help out at the school I spent my first three years in the US working for. And it’s a great way of making sure my thought remains grounded (in some sense at least) in trying to figure out how to communicate a message worth hearing to 60 or so 10-14 year olds at 8:30 in the morning. 

Anyway, I usually just work off notes, but I wrote a full text for my homily this Friday. The actual delivery was of course pretty different to what is written here—kids clapping for the end of term, for example, followed by a call and response discussion about the desirability, or lack thereof, of perpetual termtime (turns out the kids didn’t think school year round would be a good thing!). It was also one of those ones where everyone was especially tired, plus a little antsy at the imminent prospect of the Christmas holidays. But the main body of the homily is still written here, and it’s a text I’m oddly happy with. It’s less linear than most of my homilies (partly to try and refer back to concrete memories as often as possible, to make the more abstract parts more accessible for the younger kids), but I think it works. And since I haven’t posted anything on here for a while, I thought it might be worth sharing this. Hope it’s worth reading, and Happy Advent!

Right, here we are. Amazingly, this is my last homily of the term. This time next week, we’ll all be on holiday, preparing for Christmas with families, and hopefully getting some much needed rest.

It’s got me thinking—think back to the first homily I gave this year. Right towards the beginning of the Saint Martin’s term. And think how long ago that feels. For one thing, it was 85 degrees outside, instead of 25. But think back to then, and think of all the time that’s past—September, October, November, December.

Now; I want you to think of just one thing, one really important and really good thing, that has happened between now and then that you could not have imagined would happen. Think of something that’s changed about you, a friendship you couldn’t have predicted, falling in love with a book you hadn’t heard of, developing a new skill, learning something you didn’t even know you didn’t know. Fifth graders especially, think about all the friendships you’ve made over the last few months, with people you didn’t even know existed before. Think of all the lessons you’ve learnt, and think of what it feels like to call this place your school.

Time is the funniest thing. It never feels like it’s going all that quickly. But when you look back over the time that’s past, it’s like, where did it go? And how did I get here. The things which become part of our life immediately feel as if they’ve always been there—but if we go back even four months, we can find a time when they weren’t. And the strangest thing, the strangest thing, is this: the future is always completely unpredictable. But when it becomes the past, it feels as if it couldn’t be any other way. I don’t think this is a feeling which ever passes. And think back to that one thing; think about the time when you couldn’t have known it would be a part of your life. Think about how important it feels now.

There is a point to all of this. Right now, we’re in the time of advent; advent calendars and all those things. I always found it so hard not to eat tomorrow’s chocolate when I had a chocolate calendar. But the point of advent is obviously that we’re looking forward to Christmas, to the birth of Jesus. Most people in America are looking forward to hearing about Mary and Joseph not having room at the inn, about the shepherds and the wise men coming, about the star. But it’s worth remembering, obvious as it sounds, that the was no Christmas holiday when Jesus was born. It’s worth remembering that the month before his birth wasn’t marked with calendars or candles. It’s worth remembering that Jesus was not anticipated by most, and only celebrated by a very few.

Think again about your one thing. Whatever it is, think really hard about how it came into your life—if it was a friendship, how you got to know each other. If it was a new fact, or a new way of looking at the world, or a new skill, think about how you learnt it. And think about what it feels like, to think of a time when you didn’t know what now feels like a part of who you are.

More often than not, we do not know what we’re actually looking forward to in the future. And that is wonderful. It can seem terrifying, but most of all, it means that life ahead is filled with unknown joys. Because I can promise you, over the next four months, there will be another thing—something you cannot know now will happen, but when it does, will feel as if it had always been the case. For my part, this time last year, I had absolutely no idea that I’d be here, with you. And now that I am, I can’t imagine wanting to be anywhere else.

Hold onto that one thing. Celebrate that one thing. And remember that one thing, when you think about the future—it is one of the real joys which life has given you. The gifts wrapped up under the tree at Christmas are wonderful; but they’re ultimately symbols of these gifts wrapped in time. Time is strange, life is wonderful, and you are all amazing. Merry Christmas.

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