The Gatekeeper

(Homily for First Sunday in Advent, Year B)

"He orders the gatekeeper to be on the watch." (Mk 13:34)

In a large household the gatekeeper held a crucial role. The owner placed an enormous trust in him. If he got distracted or fell asleep, he jeopardized every member of the household. We can see the importance of the gatekeeper by comparing him to the Roman sentry.

If a sentry in the Roman army dozed while on duty, he received a severe punishment. They stood him in the middle of his regiment and his fellow soldiers clubbed him to death. The watchman deserved death because by falling asleep he had exposed the others to mortal danger.

Jesus has placed certain people as gatekeepers or sentries - and tied the rest of us to them. His admonition, then, affects us all, “Be alert! Be watchful!” It’s not just that the Second Coming could happen at any moment – or even that, without warning, the curtain could fall on your life or mine. Rather, the danger is more immediate: if the gatekeeper fails in his duty, a robber might despoil the household at any moment. He could do it stealthily or worse, by violence.

This week I have been reading a book which made me reflect on the role of the watchman or gatekeeper: An Exorcist Tells His Story by Fr. Gabriele Amorth. The sensational title might deter some readers; that would be a shame because it contains solid theology.* I'm hardly a person who sees the devil under every stone - still, I couldn't put the book down. Not that it is scary like the Exorcist movie, but rather I found it sobering - like suddenly getting a clear diagnosis of a mysterious disease. Fr. Amorth describes a spiritual battle with an enemy ready to take advantage of any weakness or lack of vigilance.

In that battle we cannot rely on good deeds to protect us. Isaiah tells us they are “like polluted rags.” (64:6) Instead, as today’s Psalm states, we must turn to the true source of power: the Lord surrounded by his faithful angels. If we call upon them, we needn't fear the spiritual forces which rule this world. The Lord permits them to attack souls, for reasons which Fr. Amorth explains rather well, but He will not allow them final victory - except over the person who surrenders his will to them.**

As we begin these four weeks of Advent, we acknowledge the crucial role of the gatekeeper - not only the formal exorcist, but all those the Lord places on guard duty. To us he gives this solemn charge: “Stay awake. Be vigilant.”


*For a brief summary, see: Exorcism: Teaching of Catholic Church

**It's like the man who makes gambling the center of his life - in the short run, he might become king of the world, but eventually the odds catch up to him. Some ask why the Lord does not simply stop the demons. As Fr. Amorth shows in his book, He has provided effective means to deter them - but He also allows us the freedom to choose whether we will avail ourselves of those remedies. Another comparison: The person who has given up his freedom to alcohol (or sexual addiction) must first recognize his impotence and then turn to a Higher Power. That possibility of repentance makes us different from the angels: whether fallen or faithful, they have made irrevocable decisions. While still in these bodies, we can change - either for God or away from Him.

Spanish Version

From Archives (First Sunday of Advent, Year B):

2017: God's Thirst, Our Thirst Week 1: Misery and Magnificence
2014: Preparing Our Hearts Week 1
2011: It Is Right and Just
2008: The Diagnosis
2005: Prepare Yourself
2002: The Gatekeeper
1999: The Last Curtain

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