Sunday, November 30, 2014

Called From Coma To Consciousness

1st Sunday in Advent (B)

Picture: cc BK

Sisters and brothers, I once heard a story about someone who fell into a coma after a serious car accident. And the doctors were unable to revive her. In desperation, the family sought the help of a folk healer. Who said that the trauma of the accident had somehow caused the person’s soul to become separated from her body. And, since the body had been moved, the soul was now unable to find its way back to it. Hence the coma. To help the person, the healer went back to the scene of the accident and performed some rituals to recall the soul. And to lead it back to where the body lay, unconscious, in hospital. Well, believe it or not, soon after that, the comatose patient actually regained full consciousness. Much to the family’s relief.

To be called from coma to consciousness. Wouldn’t that be a precious gift? But perhaps we may be unimpressed. After all, how often does a person fall into a coma? And is it even possible for a soul to be separated and then reunited with the body? Surely this is only a fairy tale.

And yet, haven’t we met people who live more or less habitually in a coma-like condition? People who seem less than fully conscious. People who are there, but not quite there. People who, for example, may have been traumatised by some event in the past. And, as a result, are only half alive, because they can’t get over the hurt. Or can’t forgive the one who hurt them.

And what about people who are not so much caught up in the past as obsessed with something in the present? Something like money. Or success. Or good looks. Or gambling. Or gaming... Don’t obsessions like these also cause people to be somehow less than conscious? To live as though their souls were separated from their bodies?

Nor are trauma and obsession the only things that can cause such a condition. Technology too can result in a loss of consciousness. Don’t we often see people walking down the street, for example, with their eyes glued to their phones? Or driving a car while texting? Or even listening to a homily while tweeting? Like the person in a coma, they too are there, but not quite there. They walk without really walking. Drive without really driving. Listen without really listening. In fact, it’s probably no exaggeration to say that many of us live much of our lives precisely in such a coma-like condition. With our souls separated, to a greater or lesser extent, from our bodies.

And, of course, our modern society encourages such a condition. We call it multi-tasking. A skill that we cannot do without if we wish to survive and thrive in this fast-paced world of ours. And yet, it doesn’t take much reflection on our part to see that multi-tasking comes at a cost. Just as the accident victim’s coma caused her and her family to suffer. So too does our habitual lack of consciousness hurt others and ourselves as well. Not only do we fail to attend adequately to those around us. We lose sight even of our own legitimate needs. Not only do we tend to neglect our family and friends. Our colleagues and classmates. We may forget even to eat when we ourselves are hungry. To rest when we are tired. To relax when we are stressed. To socialise when we are lonely. To pray when we are burdened… Our coma causes suffering. In ourselves as much as in others.

But if this is true, then what can be done for us? How can we be brought back to consciousness? Sisters and brothers, could it be that what we need is something like what that folk healer was able to provide for the comatose patient? We need someone to call our souls back into our bodies. And isn’t this what our Mass readings do for us on this first Sunday in Advent?

In the gospel, Jesus issues an urgent call to consciousness. In the space of five short verses, the Lord repeats the same instruction no less than four times. Stay awake… because you never know when the time will come… Stay awake… because you do not know when the master of the house is coming… Stay awake! Be attentive to the signs of the master’s coming. Stay awake! But how do we do this? How do we stay awake and remain watchful for God’s coming? We who habitually live in a semi, if not fully, comatose condition. We who are often oblivious even to our own legitimate desires. Let alone the needs of others. How can we become conscious enough to welcome the Lord when he chooses to come to meet us?

Our readings help by awakening in us three important dispositions. The first is something central to the season of Advent. Something expressed very beautifully in both the first reading and the responsorial psalm. Oh, that you would tear the heavens and come down, the prophet Isaiah exclaims. A moving cry of longing matched by the words of the psalmist: God of hosts, bring us back; let your face shine on us and we shall be saved. What these words can do for us, sisters and brothers–if only we pay careful attention to them–is awaken in us that deep longing that each of us has. A longing for full consciousness. A longing  for true happiness. A longing to experience God’s boundless love. A longing that leaves us feeling restless, even when busy with many things. Or frustrated, even when our materials needs have been met. Or lonely, even amidst many people. A longing that motivates us to remain alert for signs of the Lord’s coming.

The second thing that our readings awaken in us is contrition. In the first reading, after begging God to come, the prophet confesses his people’s sinfulness. We had long been rebels against you… And yet, in the midst of this consciousness of sin, the prophet continues to trust in the abiding mercy of God. He remembers who God is and what God has done for the people. You, Lord, yourself are our Father. Our Redeemer...We the clay, you the potter, we are the work of your hand.

Which brings us to the third thing that our readings awaken in us. As we remember all that God has done and continues to do for us. As we remember who God has been and continues to be for to us. What is awakened in us is gratitude. The same gratitude that we find St. Paul expressing in the second reading. I never stop thanking God, he writes to the Corinthians, for all the graces you have received through Jesus Christ… because God, by calling you has joined you to his Son, Jesus Christ…

Longing, contrition and gratitude. Three things that our readings awaken in us. If only we listen carefully to the call that they address to us. A call to greater wakefulness. A call to deeper consciousness. A call to closer attention to the different and exciting ways in which God chooses to come to meet us in our daily lives.

Sisters and brothers, as we begin this beautiful season of Advent, our loving God is calling out to each of us. Calling our wandering souls to return to our bodies. Calling us to wake from our comas into fuller consciousness. What will you do to respond to this call today?


  1. Dear Lord,

    This Advent, may i ask you to keep my heart and being OPEN ......

    May the doors of my heart always remain open so as to welcome You .when You come...

    Lord, I long for You -

    May You enter into my being - may you find a dwelling place deep within my heart.

    In all the distractions and preoccupations of my life, let me never miss You when You pass by - may I never be deprived of You & Thy Loving Presence.

    For our hearts remain restless UNTIL they rest IN YOU.

    M--A--R--A--N--A--T--H--A COME LORD JESUS!

    Seeing Is Believing

  2. O Lord - You are LIGHT ETERNAL.

    We are a people who have lived in darkness - the darkness of our sin, selfishness, pride and SELF (ego) ....

    Come and set our hearts ablaze with Your LIGHT, Your LOVE and Your LIFE, this Advent.

    Come, Lord Jesus.

    Sih Ying