Advent. What an extraordinary time — situated at the intersection of old and new, the close of the calendar year and outset of the Church's new liturgical year. A time when we are called to examine our lives and prepare for the birth of Christ. The Church calls us in these days to reflect on the past year, "make straight" the way of the Lord through our prayers, almsgiving, and Sacrament of Penance, and discern what changes we need to make in our hearts to best prepare for His coming.
"Let us not resist the first Advent," St. Augustine tells us, "and the second will not terrify us." In the "first Advent," Jesus makes His humble entrance into the world through our Blessed Mother. Like those gathered in the stable in Bethlehem, we revere this coming with great joy.
Yet St. Augustine also reminds us of this season's foreshadowing of the "second Advent," the second coming of Christ. Throughout these weeks, we hear proclaimed the Gospel messages about the end of the world and the second coming of Christ. Rather than eliciting fear or apprehension, these readings should provide us with a healthy reminder of our life's end. If we are living out the call to holiness, these days will also deepen in us joy and anticipation at His second coming.
St. Luke, whose Gospel we will explore in the coming liturgical year, reminds us, "People will die of fright in anticipation of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. But when these signs begin to happen, stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand" (Luke 21:26-28).
The second Advent is not to be feared! Christ walks with us in our lives, everyday. In a very real way, His second coming will find us ready if we have welcomed Him each day.
When Jesus comes, He will say to those who are ready, "Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me" (Mt 25: 34-36).
This is how we are to live — welcoming Christ through prayer and penance this season. If we do so, nothing will, in the words of St. Augustine, "terrify" us at His coming. Having our eyes set on our eternal life with Him helps us to live in the present focusing on what is truly important, and keeps us focused on a life devoted to Christ Jesus.
The Catechism states, "By sharing in the long preparation for the Savior's first coming, the faithful renew their ardent desire for his second coming. By celebrating the precursor's birth and martyrdom, the Church unites herself to his desire: ‘He must increase, but I must decrease'" (CCC, § 524). Jesus is our bridge from earth to heaven, and looking to His first coming with trust will help us to remember to approach the second with joy.
Participation in the sacraments is pivotal for our preparation. Advent is a penitential time in the Church, and I strongly urge you to take advantage of this opportunity to be in fuller communion with the Lord. By calling to mind our sins and confessing them, we are able to focus on what we need to change in order to prepare completely for Christ's coming. "Through the confession of sins man looks squarely at the sins he is guilty of, takes responsibility for them, and thereby opens himself again to God and to the communion of the Church in order to make a new future possible" (CCC, § 1455). Confession, like the second coming, need not be daunting. Rather, it should be part and parcel of our daily lives.
As always, I keep you in my prayers, and wish you and your families a blessed Advent.